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Peregrine Falcon 

(Falco peregrinus)
Banded Spring 2000, Indianapolis, Indiana

General Information

The Peregrine Falcon occurs almost worldwide on every continent except Antarctica. This medium size raptor has inspired awe throughout human history, and has been trained and used by man as an aerial hunter in the ancient art of Falconry. In the middle ages, only royalty could fly this bird from the fist. A once common cliff nester in North America, this species experienced a dramatic population decline between 1950 and 1965, mainly due to pesticide use and habitat loss. Nesting pairs were essentially exterminated east of the Mississippi, and the species was expected to go extinct in North America by 1980. Thanks to environmental laws coupled with captive breeding programs and aggressive release programs, this bird has made a successful comeback, and again inspires awe when seen stooping on another bird or streaking across a beach in search of its prey.


Female Peregrine Falcons are larger then the males, with a wingspan of 43 - 46 inches and weights of from 1 lb. 14 ounces to 2 lb. 11 ounces. The black face head, cheeks and mustach contrast with the white throat and neck. 

Adult Peregrine Falcon

Figure 1- Adult Peregrine Falcon


Peregrine Falcon

Figure 2 - Peregrine Falcon


Peregrine Falcons are aerial hunters, seeking their favorite prey of domestic pigeons and many other bird species. Their horizontal flight speed, ranging from 40 to 60 mph, is not particularly fast, but their amazing speed in a stoop has been clocked at over 200 mph. 

Peregrine Falcons are cliff nesters, but young captive bred birds restored to cliffs suffer from predation by Great Horned Owls since there are no parental birds to protect them. Successful reintroduction programs, therefore, occur on tall buildings in cities where Great Horned Owls are not a threat. This photo shows a nest box placed on the top ledge of the Market Tower in downtown Indianapolis. Note the hard hat and protective equipment worn while working around the nest. The adult falcons will attack the biologists and can inflict painful injuries.

Peregrine Falcon nest

Figure 3 - Peregrine Falcon nest


Three nestling Peregrine Falcons

Figure 4 - Three nestling Peregrine Falcons


The comeback of the Peregrine Falcon is largely due to captive breeding and the dedication of wildlife agencies and multitudes of volunteers who place and raise nestlings in new nest sites in various cities across the land. Nestlings successfully raised will often return to a nestbox placed in a city to raise young of their own. The three nestlings shown here are being raised by a pair of falcons that nested in downtown Indianapolis in 2000.


Young Peregrine Falcons are banded and studied. This nestling, about 21 days old, still wear their downy feather coat. Note too the flight feathers just starting to break out of their sheaths.


Peregrine Falcon Nestling

Figure 5 - Peregrine Falcon Nestling


Recording Nestling data

Figure 6 - Recording Nestling data


John Castrale and Amy of the Indiana DNR Non-game program are shown recording data on each young falcon. This process is a public event, and a wonderful opportunity for the public to witness the hard work up close.


The business end of a raptor is its talons. Even this young bird has fully developed legs, feet and talons, and requires careful handling. These talons are true weapons as well as the bird's tools to capture its prey. A flying bird hit by these talons by falcon diving at nearly 200 mph is instantly killed, and probably never sees it coming.



Figure 7 - Talons


Falcon Bands

Figure 8 - Falcon Bands


These are the bands placed on the Peregrine Falcon nestlings. The color code and lettering enable spotters to visually identify individual birds without having to recapture them.


A small blood sample is taken from the brachial vein on each young bird to determine its health and if needed, to determine its paternity.


Taking a Blood Sample

Figure 9 - Taking a Blood Sample


Many enjoy the banding event

Figure 10 - Many enjoy the banding event


The banding process is a great opportunity for citizens and community leaders to see the results of their dedication and hard work to restore these impressive birds to our world.


Elected officials and other community leaders participate in the banding process.


A photo op for the young birds

Figure 11 - A photo op for the young birds


Behind the scenes

Figure 12 - Behind the scenes


The unsung heroes of every falcon restoration program are the many dedicated volunteers and officials who work behind the scenes well out of public view monitor and record minute data required for each project. This monitoring station is located in the top floor of the Market Tower. Without their efforts, these projects would not be as successful. The TV monitors on the right allow observation of the nestlings and adults in the nest box.


Nesting Behavior

The Peregrine Falcons prefer to nest on cliffs and bluffs. A nest site, called an eyrie, consists of a shallow scrape that is prepared to hold from 2 to 6 eggs. Historically, nest sites are used year after year, with some nest sites in North America occupied for more than 50 years, and in Europe up to 350 years (Terres 1995).

These falcons usually do not breed until about 3 years old. Each egg is incubated for 28-29 days. The female closely broods the young, but the male assumes an increasing important role as they get older. Young birds fly when 35 to 42 days old, but depend on the parent for an additional two months (Baicich, P. J. & C. J. O. Harrison 1997).

Banding Recoveries

According to the Bird Banding Lab web site, a total of 31,250 Peregrine Falcons were banded nationwide from 1914 to 1998. Of these, 2,268 have been recovered. Banding studies show that some Falcons are migratory, especially those in northern breeding areas. Individual falcons also wander far and wide, and can live up to 20 years in the wild.

Conservation Status

Peregrine Falcons prey on a wide variety of bird species. They are efficient predators high on the food chain, and provide a natural control on wild bird populations. 

Peregrines are also highly regarded by wildlife enthusiasts. Few forget their first encounter with a Peregrine Falcon, and it is likely that none can forget the first time they witnesses a Peregrine Falcon stoop on its prey. 

The presence of a nesting pair of Peregrines Falcons can be an economic benefit to a community as many will visit to witness this awesome bird of prey.

Literature Cited

Baicich, P. J. & C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American Birds, 2nd ed. Academic Press.

Terres, J. K. 1995. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Wings Books, NY. 

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