Raptor Identification

Falco peregrinus

Peregrine Falcon

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Raptor Population Index Assessment: 80% of sites showing stable counts
Conservation Concerns: Contaminants, Collisions, Habitat Degradation
Group: Falcon
Size: L 14-18” / WS 37-46”


The Peregrine Falcon is a large, powerful, lightning-fast falcon found in various cliff habitats, marshes, and open areas across North America. Once nearly gone across part of its range, it has rebounded in recent decades, now occupying urban areas where it nests on building ledges, bridges, and man-made structures, especially boxes erected in areas of the U.S. specifically for them. Peregrines still use cliffs to nest on where available in the West and parts of the Northeast but seem to be as common on man-made structures these days.

The Peregrine is a bird-hunting specialist preying on shorebirds, waterfowl, and pigeons (in urban areas), but will snag any bird not too large if given the chance. On numerous occasions, they have even been seen taking smaller raptors right out of the sky! Peregrines hunt mainly via dramatic high-speed stoops, at times reaching speeds over 200 mph, earning it the title of “fastest animal on the planet.” They are also easily capable at chasing down speedy birds such as Bufflehead and Pintail in level flight. For obvious reasons, it is the favored bird among falconers. Peregrines often perch conspicuously on prominent overlooks, including power poles and buildings, and when agitated, give a loud, harsh, nasal “kak-kak-kak-kak…”

The Tundra race of Peregrine breeds across the Arctic throughout Alaska and Canada. It is the most widespread of the races. Tundra is generally a long-distance migrant, wintering sparingly in the United States but mainly in Central and South America and the Caribbean. The Anatum race breeds primarily in the continental West to Mexico, and many winter within their breeding range. Peale’s (which are slightly larger than the other races) is resident across the wet areas of the Pacific Northwest coast to the outer Aleutian Islands and is found sparingly throughout the West in winter. Still, some have been known to migrate all the way to the East Coast and down into Florida! However, through efforts in the 1970s & 80s when the Peregrine population was diminishing (mostly in the eastern U.S.), birds of European descent, falconry birds of mixed decent, and heavily marked birds of unknown origin were introduced into the East, making it impossible to ID some Peregrines to subspecies in certain areas. Females are distinctly larger than males, the biggest birds approaching the size of male Gyrfalcon.


  • Appear stocky when perched, with a flat, blocky head and stout chest and shoulders
  • Wing tips reach the tail tip.
  • In flight, elegantly proportioned long, narrow, pointed wings
  • Wings are smoothly curved with slight bend at the wrists making the overall silhouette resemble a retracted bow-and-arrow when soaring


  • Highly capable of soaring, seen high in the sky with other raptors on migration, or when ‘hiding’ from prey before initiating a lethal stoop
  • Soar on flat wings or with a very shallow dihedral (sometimes just the wing tips curl upward)
  • Glide on slightly drooped wings with powerful, fluid, whip-like, “rolling” wing beats, which enable them to accelerate to high speeds in seconds
  • Steady in flight at all times


  • Two age classes, adult and juvenile
  • Cere, legs, and eye-ring change from bluish to yellow over the first winter
  • Plumage varies with geography among the three North American subspecies
    • Tundra juveniles are the palest overall, lightly streaked on underbody and a pale crown
    • Anatum are typically more heavily marked than Tundra, with a rufous wash to the underside and often a dark forehead
    • Peale’s are extremely heavily marked underneath and dark above, often lacking sideburn
  • The adult is whitish below with variable blackish barring on the belly and checkered underwings; from above, the adult is bluish above, with a blacker head (with white cheek) and primaries, and paler blue rump
    • Males average bluer above than females, but sexes are often not identifiable in the field
  • The Juvenile is buffy below (fading to whitish by spring) with dark streaks, checkered underwings, and a pale throat; the top is dark brown to slaty with a dark sideburn

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