Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) are one of the most iconic birds on the planet. These birds have a very wide distribution, including much of North America and the United Kingdom. Seeing a peregrine falcon stoop and fly at speed is a spectacle that all bird watchers should make a point of seeing for themselves. So where do you go to spot one of these raptors?
Peregrine falcons are one of the most common and widespread raptors on Earth. These masterful hunters are highly adaptable and can be seen in just about any type of habitat. Peregrine falcons are migratory through much of the United States and Europe, although they are also resident in many parts of the world, including the west and east coast of the united states, and much of the United Kingdom.
The word peregrine translates as pilgrim or wanderer from Latin and these are words that suit these falcons well. Read this article to learn all about the distribution of peregrine falcons, and where you might be able to spot one of these magnificent birds of prey.
Peregrine Falcons can be found across most types of habitats
The peregrine falcon has an extensive, but pretty patchy distribution across the globe. These birds occur in migratory and resident populations on every continent except Antarctica.
There are some unexpected gaps in the distribution of the peregrine falcon, but since these birds are so migratory, you could see them just about anywhere while they are moving between breeding and overwintering grounds.
Continue reading to learn more about where peregrine falcons live, breed, and are most likely to be seen.
Peregrine falcons can be found in a remarkable range of habitats, from sea level to altitudes well over 10,000ft (3,048m). They inhabit dry deserts and high rainfall areas from the equator all the way to the arctic circle. They occur from the wildest wilderness to city centers, seemingly wherever their most important prey items are available.
Prey can be a big factor for where Peregrine Falcons live
Peregrine falcon numbers dropped dramatically in the mid-1900s, largely due to the use of pesticides known as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT). This toxic chemical caused raptor eggs to laid with thin, brittle shells that broke or didn't hatch. It also killed young and adult birds, and the population of peregrine falcons was nearly wiped out across North America.
Since the banning of DDT, and through intensive reintroduction programs, peregrine falcons have made an amazing comeback. Today, these birds are not uncommon and can be seen in many parts of the USA, including in urban areas and major cities.
Peregrine falcons are resident in some parts of the US, while in other states they move between breeding and wintering grounds at different times of the year.
You can see peregrine falcons all year round on the west coast from Washington south to California and then west across Arizona, New Mexico, and into west Texas. There is also a resident population of peregrine falcons in the east, from North Carolina up to New York state.
Peregrine falcons are breeding visitors to two regions of North America. These breeding grounds are in the central and northeastern parts of the USA. Look out for breeding peregrine falcons in the following states:
During the non-breeding season, migratory peregrine falcons overwinter in coastal New England and in the south and southeast from southern Texas through Florida and up to North Carolina.
Peregrine Falcon perched on a cliff, on the lookout for the next meal
Peregrine falcons are residents in Western British Columbia. Elsewhere, they can be seen across much of Canada on migration to their breeding grounds.
Peregrine falcons nest across much of the north of Canada, as well as in neighboring Alaska. These birds also breed in the south and central parts of Alberta province, as well as in isolated areas of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.
Peregrine falcons are most common in the west of the United Kingdom, from Wales through northwestern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In the non-breeding season, some falcons that breed in northern Europe also arrive to join the resident population.
British birds suffered greatly from the use of DDT and other pesticides and the population shrunk dramatically in the middle of the 20th century. Peregrine falcons have since recovered well and are not considered to be under threat.
Peregrine Falcon in the countryside, Wales, UK
Peregrine falcons are present across much of Australia but are not common there. They are most numerous in the southeast, in the states of Victoria and New South Wales.
Peregrine falcons inhabit such a wide variety of habitats that you might spot one just about anywhere. Generally speaking, these amazing hunters are most common in the vicinity of nesting sites like cliffs, ledges, towers, and even around skyscrapers in major cities during the breeding season.
Peregrine falcons can also be common around wetlands and coastlines where they hunt for shorebirds. During migration, these birds often fly along features like shorelines, especially in states like Maryland and Virginia where excellent hunting habitat exists.
These birds can also be common along much of the eastern seaboard as well as the coast of Texas.
A Peregrine Falcon soaring through the sky
The best places to see peregrine falcons are where the birds are resident all year long. Areas where suitable nest sites like cliffs, towers, and tall buildings are all great places to look during the breeding season.
You don’t have to travel to remote wilderness areas to spot the world's fastest bird in action. In the United States, peregrine falcons nest in major cities like New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Long Beach California. The same is true in the United Kingdom, where more than twenty pairs of these birds are known to live in the city of London.
Peregrine falcons that are not resident migrate south for the winter, and the habitats they occupy in the south could be completely different from those where they breed.
Peregrine falcons that breed in North America can migrate as far as Argentina to spend the winter. Others do not travel quite as far, choosing to spend the winter in coastal areas of the United States or in Central America. In the UK, peregrine falcons are mostly resident, although some falcons that breed in Scandinavia join resident British birds for the winter months.
Peregrine Falcon perched on a tree stump
In the summer, migratory peregrine falcons return to the northern hemisphere to breed. At this time they can be seen across much of North America, Europe, and Asia. Peregrine falcons also live in many parts of the Southern hemisphere and they tend to remain in these areas throughout the year.
Peregrine falcons are usually diurnal birds that are active during the day and sleep at night. These birds choose roost sites where they can sleep without the risk of being caught by predators. Typical roost sights include buildings, towers, ledges, and cliffs.
Interestingly, peregrine falcons have adapted to hunting at night in some parts of the world. At the Empire State Building in New York, for example, peregrine falcons often hunt after dark for migrating songbirds that are flying south for the winter.
Peregrine Falcon taking off for flight
Peregrine falcons are resident in many of the countries of Southern Europe. In the north, these birds are breeding migrants that fly south for the winter. Even where these birds do not breed or overwinter, they can often be seen in migration between the north and south.
Peregrine falcons are a widespread and common species that are not considered to be under threat on a global level. The species is listed as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN and its numbers are believed to be increasing.
For more information on the status of Peregrine Falcons, check out this guide.
According to the national park service, there are about 3,000 pairs of breeding peregrine falcons in North America. This is an amazing recovery after the species declined dramatically in the mid-20th century.
Over 1,400 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons are thought to live in the United Kingdom. The total number of these birds increases in the winter, when birds from Scandinavia arrive to spend the non-breeding season.
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