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 Peregrine - Fact File
Falco peregrinus
Patchily distributed, breeding mainly in the north and west, but more widespread in winter.
Coastal cliffs, mountains and moorland. Occasionally in cities.

Large powerful falcon. Blackish hood, slate upperparts and barred below. Juveniles brown above with streaked underparts. Distinctive anchor shape in flight. Female larger than male.

39 - 50 cm (15 - 20")


At the present time, sighting a peregrine in East Anglia provides a red-letter day. Even on the unique Welney Washes, with its abundance of wildfowl, peregrines are but rarely recorded, despite a daily team of observers.

When I began birding, this spectacular falcon was a regular Breydon visitor. Usually only a single bird would put in an appearance, but my diary records a memorable occasion when I watched two peregrines sporting together. Both circled high over the estuary, sharply-pointed wings alternately flapping and gliding as the great birds searched for ducks and waders.

The usual method of hunting is for the peregrine to circle high overhead and then, like a streak of lightening, descend in a breathtaking swoop on its victim.

One of the most exciting occasions I recall was watching a male peregrine at Halvergate in pursuit of a starling. The quarry twisted, turned and doubled back at speed in an attempt to elude its pursuer. The peregrine relentlessly followed every move.

Peregrine in flightThe intended victim, by repeated sudden drops almost to ground level, succeeded in outwitting the much quicker bird. But not for long. The falcon changed methods and like a feathered rocket it made a rapid grab with outstretched talons. The starling seemed to explode in a cloud of feathers as it hurtled earthwards.

Peregrines will hunt a wide range of birds. In fact well over a hundred species have been recorded in this country, ranging in size from goldcrest to grey heron and including geese. In northern Europe, mammals are also taken: rabbits, young hares, squirrel, voles and bats. In this country prey is drawn mainly from the selection occurring locally and within a short distance of the nesting place. In coastal areas, for example, puffins, rock doves, fulmars and guillemots are most favoured items of diet.

Victorian naturalists regularly recorded a peregrine frequenting the spire of Norwich Cathedral. One bird which put in an appearance by mid-September was still in residence the following March. This pattern continued for eight consecutive years. The bird's lofty look-out provided an unrivalled vantage point for seizing passing pigeons.

Editors Note: The Peregrine has a worldwide distribution - The Canadian Peregrine Foundation has much useful information and webcams during the breeding season

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.