Peregrine Falcon

Scientific name: Falco peregrinus


Photo by Laurie Campbell

Peregrine falcons have blue grey upperparts and pale, barred underparts.   The breast is spotted and the legs barred.  They have a distinctive black moustache and white cheeks, although this is more pronounced in females.  Males are about 1/3 smaller and have a more hooded appearance.   They have broad, pointed wings, with a wingspan of 80-120cm.

Habitat and Distribution

Peregrines are extremely widely distributed and are found on every continent.  It is the world’s most widespread bird of prey and has colonised all manner of habitats from polar regions to semi-desert and tropical rainforest, and from sea level to high mountainous areas.  They have also moved into urban areas and are commonly found nesting in cathedrals and other buildings.

Global distribution of the peregrine falcon


Peregrines are magnificent hunters and can reach speeds of over 150mph, making it the fastest animal on earth.  They have special baffles in their nostrils to enable them to breathe at these speeds.  They feed on medium-sized birds which they catch on the wing, either by out-flying them or stooping down from above.  Common prey items in the UK are pigeons, blackbirds and starlings.


Traditionally peregrines breed on remote cliffs and crags, although are increasingly being found in urban areas, often nesting on church spires.  Elsewhere in Europe there are tree-nesting populations.  Peregrines are territorial and normally have two or three eyries which they alternate between breeding seasons.  Most peregrines do not build a nest, but scrape out the soil on a suitable ledge.  The female lays 3-4 eggs at 2-3 day intervals and both parents share the 29-32 day incubation.  Once the chicks hatch the parents share the hunting, although the female does most of the feeding of the chicks.   The young fledge after 35-42 days but continue to rely on their parents for food for another two  months or so.

Status and Threats

Peregrine falcons are classified by the IUCN as ‘Least Concern’.  However, within the UK they face a number of threats.  As with many birds of prey they have been intensely persecuted.  They were legally killed during WW2 to protect homing pigeons, and although killing is now illegal, due to their tendency to take pigeons they are  targeted by some pigeon racers.  Illegal egg collection has been a big problem in the past and continues today.  Peregrines suffered massive global declines in the 1950s and 1960s due to the use of organochlorine pesticides such as DDT.

Within the UK Peregrine falcons are strictly protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.  They are also included on the Amber List of UK birds of conservation concern.  It is an offence to intentionally take, injure or kill a peregrine falcon or to take, damage or destroy its nest, eggs or young. It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds close to their nest during the breeding season.  Violation can result in a fine of up to £5000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 6 months.