The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is the epitome of speed and power. They strike fear into the hearts of the birds they hunt, a fact that falconers have enjoyed for over 3000 years! These incredible birds have an extensive worldwide distribution, with many even calling our towns and cities home.
Their nesting habits are a little less known than their flying and hunting talents, however. So just where and when do Peregrine Falcons nest?
Peregrine Falcons do not build a typical bird's nest, choosing instead to scrape out a shallow bowl in the gravel or dirt that collects on the floor of the nest site. They tend to nest on ledges on cliffs, on artificial structures like bridges and buildings, and also in the abandoned nests of other large birds.
Peregrine Falcons usually lay three or four eggs, although they may produce up to six eggs in some cases. The eggs hatch after about five weeks, and the chicks are ready to leave the nest site after another five weeks or so.
Peregrine Falcons are monogamous birds that often return to the same nest site every year. Pairs stay together for several breeding seasons, and are remarkably faithful to each other, even if they don’t always stick together for their entire lifespan.
This article covers the nesting habits of the awesome Peregrine Falcon. Read along with us to uncover the fascinating facts about how these birds breed.
Peregrine Falcons typically build their nests on cliffs or artificial structures, like buildings and bridges
Peregrine Falcons usually nest on ledges on cliffs. They prefer to nest on cliff walls between 165 and 660 feet (50 - 200m) high, but they will use larger or smaller cliffs. They favor ledges that are about two-thirds of the way up.
Peregrine Falcons will also nest at the following sites:
Peregrine Falcon chicks in the nest on a cliff
Peregrine Falcons do not build a nest but simply make a scrape in the ground instead. They do occasionally use the old nests of other large birds like Bald Eagles and ravens, however. These are typically large platform nests constructed from sticks.
Unless they are using the abandoned nest of a large bird like a Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcons create a pretty uninspiring nest. The bowl made by the male usually measures about 6.5 to 8.5 inches (17 - 22 cm) across and 1.2 - 2 inches (3 - 5 cm) deep.
Keep reading to learn when Peregrine Falcons nest and how long it takes for a pair to raise their family.
Peregrine Falcon nest with young birds inside
Peregrine Falcons from different parts of the world nest at different times. In the far north, these birds nest in the height of summer, while in more tropical latitudes, Peregrine Falcons can nest as early as February in winter.
The nesting period for a pair of Peregrine Falcons lasts ten or eleven weeks. They incubate their eggs for 33-35 days, and the babies are ready to leave the nest after another five or six weeks.
It's becoming more common for Peregrine Falcons to build nests on buildings in towns and cities
These raptors may be the fastest birds in the world, but they certainly do not rank very high when it comes to nest building! In fact, it would be a stretch to say these birds build any nests at all.
The male Peregrine Falcon simply scrapes out a shallow depression in the dirt that collects on the ledge. He does this by lying on his belly and pushing back with his feet. He does not bring in any materials to build the nest or make it more comfortable for his partner or his young, although objects on site might find their way into the bowl.
Peregrine Falcon nests are generally simple shallow depressions
Most Peregrine Falcon chicks fly from the nest 35 - 42 days after hatching. They may leave the nest scrape as early as ten days after hatching but stay near the nest for feeding. After leaving the nest, the young falcons may continue to beg their parents for food for as long as six weeks.
The chicks can be very persistent, and their parents may resort to dropping their meals mid-air to avoid being tackled by the hungry young birds!
Two hungry Peregrine Falcon chicks being fed in the nest
Peregrine Falcons produce a single brood of eggs per breeding season. They will, however, replace any eggs stolen from the nest by predators or human collectors.
Migratory Peregrine Falcons return to use the same nest site every year, although they do occasionally shift to nearby ledges on the same cliff or within a few miles.
Young fluffy Peregrine Falcon chick in the nest
Peregrine Falcons usually produce three or four attractive, elliptical eggs with a smooth, matte finish. The ground color of each egg varies from cream to reddish, and they are uniquely marked in darker spots and patches.
The egg size varies somewhat, depending on the subspecies of the parent birds, but most eggs measure between 2 and 2.1 inches (51 - 54 mm) long and 1.57 to 1.85 inches (40 - 47 mm) in width.
The average egg weighs about 1.6 ounces (46 g), roughly the weight of a small to medium chicken egg.
Close up of Peregrine Falcon eggs nearby to adult
In the relatively warm climate of Cuba, the birds may lay their eggs as early as late February, while in Greenland in the far north, eggs are laid in early June. Between these two extremes, most Peregrines in the United States will lay their eggs in March and April, while birds in the United Kingdom will begin nesting at a similar time.
Peregrine Falcons will use specially constructed nest boxes installed in the right areas. These nest boxes usually have a large opening in the front, an overhanging roof, and a floor covered in gravel which the male can scrape into a shallow bowl.
Picking the perfect location and installing such a nest box is a specialized and often dangerous task, however.
Peregrine Falcon in flight
The male Peregrine Falcon does not sleep at the nest site but roosts elsewhere within the vicinity. The female Peregrine Falcon will spend the night on the nest while incubating the eggs and brooding the chicks, however.
Once brooding is complete, she will roost nearby but not on the nest during the night. This probably helps her escape the continual begging of her growing chicks.
Peregrine Falcons do not usually nest in backyards because most properties do not include cliffs or other suitable nesting structures. They have adapted well to life in major towns and cities across the globe, however, and can be common in cities like New York, Chicago, and London.
Read on to learn why Peregrine Falcons feel so at home in urban areas.
When you think about it, a multistory building has many of the same properties as a natural cliff, and the abundance of pigeons in our cities provides an easy food source.
This means city dwellers have a better chance of spotting a pair of nesting Peregrines in their neighborhood than those living in the suburbs.
Close up of a perched juvenile Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcons do not build much of a nest, but they will usually return to nest at the same site every year. They do not readily abandon a nest site while breeding and are known to lay as many as four successive clutches when collectors remove their eggs.
Peregrine Falcons prefer to nest on ledges and cliffs rather than in trees. They will also nest in tree cavities, however, and have also been known to nest in the abandoned nests of other birds in trees. These falcons probably do not select any particular tree species, but they have nested in Bald Eagle nests in spruce trees in British Colombia.
Female Peregrine Falcon keeping the chicks warm in the nest
Peregrine Falcons do occasionally nest on the ground. This behavior has been noted in some parts of the world like Finland. In 2006, a Peregrine Falcon nest was located just 2 feet (0.6 m) or so above the water level of an estuary near San Diego, California.
Male Peregrine Falcons do incubate their eggs, although they usually spend less time on the eggs than the females. In Alaska, male Peregrines were responsible for about a third of the incubation, while in one case in Mexico, the male incubated for nearly 90 percent of the daylight hours.
Falcon nests are called eyries. This old name also applies to the nests of other raptors like eagles and hawks.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.