Peregrine falcons are crow-sized with a blue-black back and head and a cream coloured chest. The shape of the dark head colouring looks like a helmet, and it extends down their chin to give them a handlebar moustache look. They have a yellow ring around their eyes, yellow feet and legs, and light under feathers with darker flecks. Juveniles have paler yellow eye patches and feet, and dark brown streaking. As with most birds of prey, the females are typically larger than the males.
The Peregrine Falcon preys primarily on smaller birds like pigeons, waterfowl, flickers, shorebirds, and songbirds. They will occasionally eat bats, fish, rodents, or carrion. The Peregrine Falcon may also steal prey from other raptors, and they are known for their spectacular dives, swooping at speeds of up to 360 km/hr to capture prey with their sharp talons. They will wait on cliffs, tall trees, or buildings to plan their descending attack. Upon capturing prey, the Peregrine Falcon will quickly bite into their prey’s neck to kill them.
Biology and Behaviour:
Peregrine Falcons naturally nest on cliffs and mountains, but in recent years have adapted to nesting on human structures including transmission towers, silos, churches, tall buildings, and bridges. Peregrine Falcons may also use abandoned nests of Ravens or other raptor species. They will return to the same nesting site each year, and multiple generations often return to the same sites. To make a nest, parents create a depression with their belly into whatever substrate is available. Though no outside material is brought for nesting, often bones, prey remains, and debris are scattered around the area. Usually 3 or 4 eggs are laid and are incubated by both parents. For 5-6 weeks after hatching, parents teach fledglings to fly and drop off food for them.
Peregrine Falcons are extremely agile flyers. Their average speed is 30-50 km/hr, but they can reach speeds of up to 320 km/hr while diving. Peregrine Falcons will perch as high as they can and when they find their prey, they will dive down to catch them and bite them at the neck to finish the kill. While the Peregrine Falcon is a mighty hunter at the top of the food chain, they can be preyed upon by Gyrfalcons, Eagles, Great Horned Owls, and other Peregrine Falcons.
- The Gyrfalcon is larger, and lacks the dark helmet. They are also only seen in Ontario during the winter
- Merlins are smaller, lighter in colour, and also lack the dark helmet and moustache
- Prairie Falcons are more brown in colour than blue-black, and their undersides are more spotted than barred
Conservation and recovery strategies:
Thankfully, a great deal of work has been done to help recover Peregrine Falcon populations. DDT was banned in Canada in the early 1970s. Peregrine Falcons have been used as a case study to understand the unintentional effects of introducing chemicals into the environment. DDT was effective at decreasing outbreaks of malaria and improving crop yields, but its long term persistence in food webs has been an important lesson. The decline of top predators is an indication that the rest of the ecosystem is unstable.
A breeding program has released 600 birds between 1977 and 2006 in partnership with different organizations and levels of government. In 1998 an OMNR program helped to map Peregrine Falcon habitat throughout Ontario. Land owners with Peregrine Falcons on their property can be compensated through a tax rebate program.
The Ontario recovery goal is to increase populations to a sustainable level and to ensure they occupy the full extent of their historical range. A lot of knowledge gaps about Peregrine Falcons remain. For instance, we do not know what minimum population size is required to maintain a stable population. We also don’t know the extent of human disturbance the falcons can tolerate, and effective ways to mitigate disturbances around nests. More information on the effects of wind turbines, diseases, and long-term effects of contaminants would help researchers understand the threats.
Though there are not many Peregrine Falcon sightings within The Land Between in recent years, historically their range extended into Central Ontario and they nested on the cliffs within the Haliburton Highlands. Part of the Ontario recovery strategy is to bring Peregrine Falcons back to their historical range.
Ontario Peregrine Falcon Recovery Team. 2010. Recovery strategy for the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) in Ontario. Ontario Recovery Strategy Series. Prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Peterborough, Ontario. vi + 36 pp.
White, C. M., N. J. Clum, T. J. Cade, and W. G. Hunt (2002). Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.660
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