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Peregrine Falcon

Meet our education bird Finnegan, a Peregrine Falcon, and learn more about his species.

Finnegan - Tony Pulokas
Finnegan - Tony Pulokas
Meet Finnegan

Hatched: Spring 2000

Arrived at Audubon: May 2000

Sex: Male

Expected lifespan: Up to 15 years in the wild; 15-25 years in captivity

History: Finnegan arrived at the Wildlife Care Center in May 2000. He was removed from his nest in the Columbia River Gorge after biologists discovered he had a deformed foot and would never be able to hunt effectively — he would starve in the wild.

Today there are more than 100 known Peregrine nest sites in Oregon. Listing of the Peregrine Falcon under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1973 and the banning of DDT in 1972 has helped restore Peregrine Falcon populations. The City of Portland has played a big role in this recovery. Peregrines will sometimes substitute bridges and skyscrapers for the cliffs on which they naturally nest. Peregrines first began nesting on Portland’s Fremont Bridge in 1994 and today there are Peregrine nests on Fremont, Saint Johns, Interstate, Abernethy and Interstate Bridges.



Finnegan - Portland Audubon

Species Fact Sheet

Scientific name
Falco peregrinus

Classification
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiform
Family: Falconidae
Genus: Falco
Species: peregrinus

Size
Male length: 15-20 inches
Female length: 18-21 inches

Male weight: 550-660 grams
Female weight: 740-1200 grams

Male wingspan: 37-43 inches
Female wingspan: 44-51 inches

Appearance
The body of the Peregrine Falcon is sleek and compact with long, pointed wings. They gain their adult plumage after their first annual molt at one year. The backs of Peregrines are slate gray in color. Their underparts are cream-colored, with dark narrow barring on the flanks and belly from breast to tail-tip. The head is black, and the coloration extends down below the eyes to cover the cheeks. The tail is slate gray with black bars and a white tip. The feet and legs are a bright yellow.

The plumage in adult Peregrines will vary. The arctic birds are the palest, and northwestern birds the darkest with the heaviest underneath pattern. The eye stripe in arctic birds is narrower. Plumage will also vary in the sub-species.

Immature Peregrines are much browner than adults. Most of their feathers are edged in buff with brown markings on edges. Black streaks on cheeks are narrower than the adult’s, and the coverts are buffish-white. Underparts are buffed, streaked with brown. Underwing is barred with buffish-white to dark brown bars, and the undertail consists of narrow, widely spaced, wavy bars.

Like all falcons, the Peregrine Falcon has raptorial feet with long toes that are highly adapted to grasping their prey. They also have short beaks and jaw muscles modified to deliver powerful bites. Along with powerful jaws, the Peregrine has a tomial tooth, known as the “killing tooth.” It is a notch on the cutting edge of the upper beak that is used to sever the prey’s spinal column. Their nostrils possess a prominent central bony tubercle.

Range/distribution
Peregrine Falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are located in most of North America, Asia, the southern tip of South America, Mid and Southern Africa, and are widespread in Europe and Australia. In North America they are most common from northern Alaska and northern Canada south to the Northwest and Mexico in the Rocky Mountains.

Habitat/territory size
The Peregrine Falcon prefers open landscapes such as rivers, flood plains, grasslands, meadows, and agricultural land. They tend to keep away from high mountains and dry desert regions. Some Peregrine Falcons have adapted well to cities, where they nest on the ledges of buildings and have an abundant source of pigeons for prey.

Migration
Peregrines located furthest north in the arctic tundra migrate as far south as Argentina. Peregrines nesting at lower elevations in more temperate climates may not migrate at all.

Diet
The diet of Peregrine Falcons consists largely of birds ranging in size from hummingbirds to Aleutian Canada Geese.

Hunting method
Like other falcons, Peregrines will go into a fast dive after their prey, shape their long toes to look like a fist, and then punch their prey. If the prey is not dead after this tremendous blow, Peregrines will use their “killing tooth” to sever the spinal cord.

Most birds of prey swoop, but none can attain the speed of the Peregrine Falcon. Peregrines have been reliably clocked at speeds of 200 m.p.h. in a dive. Because of these high speeds, their prey has very little chance when it is struck by such a force, which is why the Peregrine is such an efficient hunter.

Breeding
The male tends to arrive at the nesting territory ahead of the female and makes himself conspicuous by perching in prominent places, and by making loud calls and doing aerial acrobatics. Once a female arrives, she joins the male in his aerial acrobatics and the two may lock talons or touch beaks during the maneuvers. During the courtship, the male will feed the female. Courtship behaviors begin with the coming of spring.

The Peregrine’s nest usually consists of a shallow scrape in the soil of a rocky cliff to a low-lying bog.  They will also nest in the abandoned nests of other birds. Man-made nesting platforms are also used, as are ledges of tall office buildings and bridges. Females lay 2-6 eggs that are creamy buff with red and red-brown markings. The incubation period lasts between 28-29 days, and the young are able to begin flying at 35-42 days.

Status
Widespread use of the pesticide DDT during the 1940s, 50s and 60s caused Peregrines to lay eggs with thin shells which cracked during incubation. By 1970, nesting Peregrines were virtually eliminated from the continental United States — there were no Peregrines nesting east of the Mississippi River and only a handful in the western United States. In Oregon, nesting peregrines disappeared completely.  

DDT was banned in 1972 and the American Peregrine Falcon was listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1973. A nearly four-decade long recovery effort has brought the American Peregrine Falcon back from the brink of extinction. Today there are more than 2,000 known Peregrine nest sites nationwide and more than 140 in Oregon. They were delisted from the Federal endangered species list in 1999 and the Oregon endangered species list in 2007.

Since 1994, Peregrine Falcons have nested and raised young in the middle of downtown Portland on the Fremont Bridge. Over the last 13 years, the Fremont Bridge has been the most productive nest site in the state of Oregon and today Peregrines nest on at least six Portland-area bridges.

Learn about Portland Audubon's efforts to protect the Peregrine Falcon.

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