Field Guide/Birds/Falco peregrinus

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Falco peregrinus (Peregrine Falcon)
Peregrine Falcon
Description
The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), sometimes formerly known in North America as Duck Hawk, is a medium-sized falcon about the size of a large crow: 38-53 cm15-21 in long. The English and scientific species names mean "wandering falcon", and refer to the fact that some populations are migratory. It has a wingspan of about 1 meter40 in. Males weigh 570-710 grams1.3-1.6 pounds; the noticeably larger females weigh 910-1190 grams2.0-2.6 pounds.

The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on the planet in its hunting dive, the stoop, in which it soars to a great height, then dives steeply at speeds in excess of 320 km/h200mph into either wing of its prey, so as not to harm itself on impact. In its stoop, the Peregrine Falcon attains the highest speed of any animal. The fastest speed recorded is 390 km/h242.3 mph.

The fledglings practice the roll and the pumping of the wings before they master the actual stoop.

Peregrine Falcons live mostly along mountain ranges, river valleys, coastlines, and, increasingly, in cities. They are widespread throughout the entire world and are found in all of the continents except Antarctica.

Peregrines in mild-winter regions are usually permanent residents, and some birds, especially adult males, will remain on the breeding territory. However, the Arctic subspecies migrate; tundrius birds from Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland migrate to Central and South America, and all calidus birds from northern Eurasia move further south or to coasts in winter.

Australian Peregrine Falcons are non-migratory, and their breeding season is from July to November each year.

Peregrine Falcons feed almost exclusively on birds, such as doves, waterfowl and songbirds, but occasionally they hunt small mammals, including bats, rats, voles and rabbits. Insects and reptiles make up a relatively small proportion of their diet. On the other hand, a growing number of city-dwelling Falcons find that feral pigeons and Common Starlings provide plenty of food. Peregrine Falcons also eat their own chicks when starving.

Peregrine Falcons breed at approximately two or three years of age. They mate for life and return to the same nesting spot annually. Their courtship flight includes a mix of aerial acrobatics, precise spirals, and steep dives. The male passes prey it has caught to the female in midair. To make this possible, the female actually flies upside-down to receive the food from the male's talons. Females lay an average clutch of three or four eggs in a scrape, normally on cliff edges or, increasingly, on tall buildings or bridges. They occasionally nest in tree hollows or in the disused nest of other large birds.

The average life span of a Peregrine Falcon is approximately eight to ten years, although some have been recorded to live until slightly more than twenty years of age.