The peregrine falcon is one of the world’s most widespread terrestrial vertebrates with more than 15 distinct races varying in plumage color across the globe. It generally prefers open habitats like grasslands and tundras, but has also begun to colonize cities, which provide suitable nesting sites on building ledges and easy prey like pigeons.
Although some island and southern populations are resident, many populations migrate vast distances between breeding sites and winter ranges. The northernmost peregrine falcons in the Western hemisphere migrate from Alaska and Canada to central Argentina and Chile.
One of the fiercest avian hunters, the falcon’s diet consists almost entirely of other birds, which it usually captures on the wing, diving as fast as 200 miles per hour to stun the prey with its talons. Its fantastic dives (stoops) and tight turns also emerge in spectacular courtship displays. They mate in monogamous pairs that may last many breeding seasons. Both males and females show strong attachment to previous nesting sites, and it has been suggested that this preference, rather than investment in the mate, accounts for the long-term pairings.
In the mid-twentieth century, DDT contamination of prey and habitat in North America decimated the raptors. By the mid 1960s, there were no breeding pairs east of the Mississippi River, and they were added to the Federal Endangered Species List in 1969. However, the falcon proved admirably resilient and is now one of the signal victories in conservation efforts. It was removed from the endangered list in the 1990s.February 25, 2011