The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest known flying bird. The highest flight speed recorded is 60 mph. They can dive from mid-air at speeds up to 200 mph to attack their prey.
During the 2012 breeding season, 77 territorial pairs were reported in the state. The population has been steadily recovering from extirpation since the first breeding pair was documented in 1983. However, many of the existing pairs, especially in urban areas and on bridges, would fail if it wasn't for intensive management (Loucks 2005). It is too soon to determine if the population is stable. Threats to nesting pairs still exist.
After the United States banned DDT in 1972, an effort was made to reintroduce Peregrine Falcons into the northeast. The Peregrine Fund and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released 168 young falcons in New York State between 1974 and 1988. Falcons were released at more than 12 sites in the state and 123 birds dispersed normally. By 1983, two breeding pairs returned to two sites. Two years later, two historical eyries were re-occupied by breeding pairs. An additional 12 young falcons were released in 1994 (Levine 1998). Peregrine Falcons have made a remarkable recovery in the state with the population growing steadily since 1983. By 1998 there were 38 breeding pairs. In 2003, 49 territorial pairs were known in the state (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2003). By 2006, there were 62 territorial pairs in the state (Loucks 2006), and by 2012 there were 77. Because of the recovery success, releases are no longer necessary (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2003). Breeding Bird Atlas data also shows an increase in the Peregrine Falcon population with confirmed breeding in four blocks (Andrle and Carroll 1988) compared to 68 confirmed breeding blocks during the second Atlas (McGowan and Corwin 2008). Trend data is not available from the Breeding Bird Survey (Sauer et al. 2007). The Peregrine Falcon range has expanded beyond its previously known range (McGowan and Corwin 2008). However, the future of the Peregrine Falcon in New York State is still uncertain and the population is not considered stable at this time (Levine 1998).
Prior to the 1950s, there were 40 known Peregrine Falcon nest sites documented in New York. However, it is not likely that all breeding areas were known. Several factors that contributed to the decline of the Peregrine Falcon population during the first half of the 20th century include habitat loss and human disturbances (Levine 1998). However, the breeding populations disappeared from New York mostly as a result of DDT (and its breakdown product DDE) and PCB poisoning (NatureServe 2003). These chemicals caused eggshell thinning which led to the eggs breaking before hatching. By 1957 there was no successful nesting reported in the state (Bull 1985). After DDT was banned, a recovery effort was launched throughout much of the northeast including New York. Currently, the number of known nests in the state is higher than the number of known nests prior to the 1950s. In addition, most of the historical range has been re-occupied by Peregrine Falcons with the exception of the Finger Lakes area. In fact, the range has expanded. While the recent recovery of the Peregrine Falcon is encouraging, it is still too soon to predict the long term trends.
Threats include habitat disturbance and loss, human activities, poachers robbing nests, shooting by hunters, and contamination effects (Loucks 2005). In some areas, predators such as raccoons and Great Horned Owls may decrease nest success. Human disturbances include building and bridge maintenance and recreational activities such as rock climbing, hiking, and camping near nest sites during the breeding season (NatureServe 2003). In urban areas, the mortality rate may be high due to collisions with skyscrapers and other tall office buildings.
Building and bridge maintenance should be reduced or restricted in nesting areas during the breeding season. Place nest boxes on buildings and bridges where Peregrine Falcons are breeding. Recreational activities such as rock climbing at popular areas during the breeding season should be limited. Develop signs and displays to inform the public of the need to protect and limit disturbances to Peregrine Falcons (Loucks 2005).
Little is known about the mortality rate of Peregrine Falcons in urban areas. Research is needed to compare mortality rates of urban nesting birds to birds nesting in a more natural setting. Combine radio-telemetry studies with field observations to determine essential Peregrine Falcon habitat (Loucks 2005).
Peregrine Falcons often nest on ledges or holes on the faces of rocky cliffs. They will also nest on manmade structures such as bridges and tall buildings, especially near or in urban areas. Wintering birds frequent buildings, towers, and steeples in urban areas, and open areas with plentiful prey in more natural settings.
The current Peregrine Falcon range includes the Adirondacks, the New York City area on buildings and bridges, the Hudson Valley on bridges and cliffs, and scattered urban sites such as Rochester, Buffalo, Binghamton, and Albany on buildings and bridges. The range has expanded in recent years (McGowan and Corwin 2008). The historical range was slightly different, but still included New York City buildings, the Hudson Valley, and the Adirondacks. Scattered cliff sites in the Finger Lakes Region are also included in the historical range.
The Peregrine Falcon is a nearly cosmopolitan bird that breeds on every continent except Antarctica. They are absent from high mountains, desert regions of Africa, Asia, and Australia, and from most tropical forests although, occasionally, they reach Hawaii. In North America, much recovery of populations has occurred, but still the large area extending from the western Cascades of Oregon and Washington to the eastern slope of the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and Montana and north into the southern provinces of Canada was largely unoccupied as of the early 1990s (The Peregrine Fund 1992 cited in NatureServe 2003).
A strong face pattern distinguishes Peregrine Falcons from other falcons. Diagnostic field characteristics include a black hood, broad, dark brown wedge below the eye, and pale underparts with spots and dark bars. The nesting area used by Peregrine Falcons is known as an eyrie. Eyries are typically an unlined scrape on a cliff ledge or rocky outcrop. If in similar habitat, they may use abandoned raven or hawk nests. Peregrine Falcons will also choose man-made structures such as bridges and tall buildings. Eggs are cream or buff-colored and covered with red-brown markings. From the eyrie, a repeated "we'chew" can be heard. The alarm call is a harsh, rapid "kak, kak, kak".
Peregrine Falcons hunt anytime during the day but they appear to hunt most frequently in the morning and to a lesser extent toward the evening. At the beginning of the breeding season courtship begins with aerial acrobatics, including circling, figure eights, and undulating flights, by both the male and female. Courtship feeding may occur. The average home range has a radius of approximately 5-7.5 miles (8-12 kilometers). The foraging range has a radius of approximately 17 miles (27 kilometers).
Peregrine Falcons feed primarily on birds ranging in size from medium-size song birds up to small waterfowl. Young birds may also eat insects.
The best time to observe Peregrine Falcons is at the peak of their breeding season (March-June) when they are more likely to remain close to the nesting site. Fall migrants move along the coast in the greatest numbers in late September to late October.
The time of year you would expect to find Peregrine Falcon active and reproducing in New York.
Falco peregrinus Tunstall, 1771
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Information for this guide was last updated on: June 29, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Falco peregrinus. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/peregrine-falcon/. Accessed August 25, 2019.