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Peregrine Falcon

Falco peregrinus
PROFILE PEFA 520x289

Speed. Power. Fearlessness. The Peregrine Falcon has it all. Perched high atop a rugged sea stack or wind-battered spruce, the falcon stands sentinel over its coastal domain, fierce and imperious. Evolved to hunt other birds, Peregrine Falcons deliver swift death from above. Once prey is targeted, the falcon soars high overhead and then "stoops" down into a stealth-bomber dive, wings tucked to its sides, air rushing past at two hundred miles per hour or more. At the last moment the falcon levels out. With feet outstretched it transfers its considerable momentum into a blow that stuns or outright kills the victim. Shorebirds, gulls, murres and other hapless birds meet their end in an explosive cloud of their own feathers, annihilated by an avian missile. 

Peregrine Falcons rank high in the food web, capable of taking prey nearly as large as themselves. Being a top predator has its drawbacks, though. Enter the scourge of DDT. An insecticide developed in the 1940s-50s to combat mosquitoes and fleas during the second World War, DDT was later sprayed almost indiscriminately across agricultural fields to kill crop pests. Environmental exposure degraded the insecticide into other chemicals, some of which interfered with calcium carbonate production in shell-based organisms: crustaceans, mollusks, egg-layers like birds. Small amounts of these byproducts were retained in prey animals’ bodies, accumulating in predators until they reached harmful levels. The result for falcons was eggshell thinning: eggs would break under the weight of the incubating parent, killing the nascent chick.

But after DDT was banned in 1972, peregrines made a soaring comeback. Today the Peregrine Falcon is one of the most widespread birds in the world. Indeed, the word "peregrine" means "wandering, traveling, coming from abroad." They live in a variety of habitats, from tundra to the tropics, from deserts to the rainy Oregon Coast. They even inhabit the concrete jungles of our largest cities, nesting on bridges and skyscrapers and dining on pigeons and starlings. They bring a touch of wildness to our most urban places, and thus are considered a symbol of versatility and adaptability. The future looks bright for this once-endangered species as it continues to evolve with our changing and increasingly urbanized world. 

A pair of Peregrine Falcons has nested on Cape Meares since 1987. A wildlife viewing deck at Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint offers visitors a glimpse into the eyrie, or nest site, of the falcon pair. From early April through July, bear witness to the slower-paced domestic life of our planet's swiftest species.

Facts About Peregrine Falcon

-During its characteristic "hunting stoop" in pursuit of prey, Peregrine Falcons reach speeds in excess of 240 miles per hour, making them the fastest animals on earth

-On the Pacific Coast, seabirds constitute over 75% of the Peregrine’s diet

-Migrates seasonally from places as far north as the Yukon and Greenland, traveling south as far as Argentina and Chile

-Territorial; will fight other raptors within a 125-mile radius of their nest

Last Updated: Jun 23, 2015
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