Peregrine Falcons are magnificent birds that any birder would be excited to find in the wild. But knowing how to spot these birds in their natural habitat can be challenging.
How do you find a peregrine falcon?
To find a Peregrine Falcon in the wild, scan high perches like treetops and ledges. They’ll sit on these perches looking for prey, then emerge to circle the sky and dive in what’s called a stoop. Identifying a Peregrine Falcon in flight requires patience and a trained eye.
How To Identify a Peregrine Falcon
You can identify a Peregrine Falcon by the way that they look and their behavior. Peregrine Falcons have distinct flight patterns and roosting habits that can make it easier to find and identify these great birds.
Peregrine Falcons are large raptors with yellow talons, a hooked beak, blue-ish gray wings and tail, and dark brown back and head.
Their neck and chin are white, and a yellow circle surrounds each eye.
Additionally, a Peregrine Falcon has dark brown bars on their wings and a brown tear-shaped mark on their cheeks.
As young birds, Peregrine Falcons have vertical streaks and heavy markings on their chests instead of the horizontal bars that adults have.
Adult Peregrine Falcons are about one and a half feet tall (0.46 m and have a wingspan of three and a half feet (1.07 m); they’re about as big as common crows.
In size, they’re the largest falcons you’ll find in most of North America.
You can also identify a Peregrine Falcon by their long primary feathers, which give them a long-winged shape.
How To Identify a Peregrine Falcon in Flight
Peregrine Falcons are the fastest diving birds in the world, reaching speeds up to 186 miles per hour (299.34 kph).
This amazing sight is easy to miss, but there are ways to increase your odds of seeing a Peregrine Falcon diving and in flight.
If you see a Peregrine Falcon sitting up on a high perch, keep watching for the stoop or dive that follows.
These falcons will often sit up on their perches watching prey like pigeons, shorebirds, and ducks and then dive at the last minute to catch their prey off-guard.
Common Peregrine Falcon perches include water towers, skyscrapers, and cliffs.
Additionally, you can watch for sudden disruptions in groups of ducks or shorebirds.
This signifies that a Peregrine Falcon or similar bird has just dived into their group and will be visible in the skies again momentarily.
Peregrine Falcons will also watch and prepare to catch their prey by flying high up in the air and circling above them.
This is the easiest time to see them in flight, but it’ll be difficult to identify the bird without a good pair of binoculars, as they can fly quite high up into the air.
For a look at what Peregrine Falcons look like in flight, see the following video:
Where Do Peregrine Falcons Live?
Peregrine Falcons can live in many habitats and have a broad range.
They are also migratory birds in some cases, so it’s good to be aware of which locations are wintering locations and which are their homes year-round.
Peregrine Falcons live in numerous habitats, including forests, mountains, valleys, deserts, and coastlines, including urban and suburban areas.
They make their nests up on cliffs 1,300 feet (396.24 m) high and higher, and they’ve been found nesting along the rim of the Grand Canyon.
These Peregrine Falcons also nest in hollow tree snags and old stick nests left behind by other birds.
These nests can be found not only on cliffsides but also on hilltops on the ground and the ledges of buildings and bridges. They’ll often keep the same nesting site for years.
In the United States, it’s most common to find Peregrine Falcons along the coastline, where they hunt shorebirds like large gulls.
Peregrine Falcons are found nearly everywhere in the world.
They live on every continent but Antarctica, and they can travel between continents on their long migratory journeys between wintertime and breeding season.
In North America, some Peregrine Falcons stay put year-round, while others migrate.
Those who live on the continent year-round reside in Alaska, the Northeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the western coast.
Alaska has a particularly high Peregrine Falcon population when the birds make their yearly migration from South America.
Are There Many Peregrine Falcons in the Wild?
Peregrine Falcons are common in the United States and across the world.
They can be found in many different habitats, and they’re now much more common to see in the wild than they used to be.
Conservation of Peregrine Falcons
Peregrine Falcons were at risk of extinction in the United States for most of the 20th century due to the impact of pesticides like DDT.
At the time, DDT and other harmful pesticides were sprayed on farmlands, where they then made their way into the food chain through small birds and fish.
DDT poisoned the falcons who consumed these animals, and it prevented their offspring from developing by thinning their eggshells.
When the government banned the use of DDT in the 1970s, Peregrine Falcons made a comeback, and they’re no longer considered an endangered species.
Tips for Spotting a Peregrine Falcon in the Wild
There are numerous ways to make it more likely that you’ll spot a Peregrine Falcon in the wild, especially if you’re able to travel to find their most common habitats.
- Visit the northwest coastline of the United States year-round.
- Visit the Southern coastline of the United States in the wintertime.
- Look for nests on cliff edges and building ledges, anywhere high up with nooks and cavities. Female Peregrine Falcons will stay with the young at the nest for the first month or so after having offspring, and you’ll sometimes see the male Peregrine Falcon bringing food to the nest.
- Listen for a raspy “klee-klee-klee-klee” sound.
- Bring a good pair of binoculars like the Gosky Roof Prism Binoculars (available on Amazon.com) to make it easier to identify a Peregrine Falcon that’s circling high above the ground.
- Be patient. It may take some time before you’re able to spot a Peregrine Falcon in action, but the sight is worth the wait!
How To Tell a Peregrine Falcon Apart From Other Raptors
There are many differences between Peregrine Falcons and other birds of prey, including some key physical features. These include wing shape, feather type, and tail length.
The shape of a falcon’s wings is pointed, and its wing feathers aren’t fringed at the edges. Rather, they’re sleek and aerodynamic birds built for speed while diving.
Their tail is short and straight, and their body is smaller overall than of other raptors, like hawks.
Larger raptors with fringed wings and rounded tails are more likely to be eagles, buteos, accipiters, or other birds of prey.
Peregrine Falcons are amazing birds to witness in action, and you can spot them if you know where and when to look.
You can find them in almost any habitat, from mountains and forests to valleys and deserts.
Just look high up in the sky for a perch where a falcon might sit to watch prey and be patient waiting for one to take flight.