Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine Falcon on final approach | Photo credit: Paul Balfe

Nearly decimated in the 1970’s by widespread use of the pesticide DDT, the peregrine falcon population made a slow comeback as a federally-protected endangered species (it was delisted as an Endangered Species in 1998.) A relative of the eagle, peregrines are crow-sized birds of prey known for their swift and agile flight. One of the world’s fastest birds, these adept hunters take their prey “on the wing”, in flight; the peregrine’s long, slender wings can propel it to speeds up to 200 miles per hour when diving in pursuit of prey.

Peregrine falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica, enjoying the widest range of all bird species. During April, May, October, and November, peregrine falcons migrate along the Central Flyway from Canada to the Texas coast; there, the falcons spend several weeks resting and feeding in preparation for flight further south along the coast.

Songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and seabirds comprise the peregrine falcon’s diet. Peregrines usually hunt in open areas with cliffs or other high vantage points above rivers and coasts. Occasionally, peregrines may nest on bridges and buildings, as well. Peregrines measure sixteen to twenty inches long, with a wingspan up to forty-six inches. Characterized by a black head with a white neck patch and throat, a blue-gray back, and a pale white underside marked with black bars, the peregrine is a distinctive sight. Male and female peregrine falcons are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger.

Two good locations to observe peregrine falcons in Texas are Matagorda Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore. The falcons are often seen hunting above the dunes.

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