Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine falcon perched on a cliff
A peregrine falcon perched on a cliff.
Close up of the head of an adult peregrine falcon
Adult peregrine falcon (Jon David Nelson - Creative Commons)
Close up of the profile of a juvenile peregrine falcon
Juvenile peregrine falcon (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Pacific Region)
Category: Birds
Ecosystems: Marine shorelines
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)

Low-
Moderate

If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting form. Providing detailed information such as a photo and exact coordinates will improve the confidence and value of this observation to WDFW species conservation and management.

Peregrine falcons have experienced a remarkable recovery and the population continues to increase across Washington. The species remains classified as "protected wildlife" under state law (WAC 220-200-100) and continues to be protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Description and Range

Physical description

Peregrine falcons are 16 to 20 inches in length and have a wingspan ranging from 36 to 44 inches. Adults are dark bluish-black above with a dark cap and wide 'sideburns'; their underside is barred. Adults have yellow coloration around their dark eyes, yellow on the upper part of their beak, and yellow feet. Juveniles are dark brown above and have vertical streaking on their underside. 

Ecology and life history

Peregrine falcons usually nest on a cliff near water, but as the species recovers and its range expands, they can also be found nesting on human-built structures, such as tall buildings or bridges, and other locations that offer security and a vantage point above surrounding terrain.

Overhead closeup of a peregrine falcon with nestlings on gravelly substrate on human-built structure.
Overhead view of a peregrine falcon and its nestlings on a human-built structure. pverdonk - Creative Commons

Peregrine falcons are predators of other birds ranging in size up to waterfowl and gulls. They hunt primarily in areas of open cover types that include estuaries, agricultural fields, coastal beaches, water bodies, and in some urban areas.

They are generally monogamous, and may form long term pair bonds.

Geographic range

Peregrine falcons breed up to about 3000 feet in elevation (sometimes higher) in nearly all parts of the state. The highest densities are along the northern outer coast and San Juan Islands. They are also found in Cascade Range foothills, along the Columbia River, and in other water bodies within the Columbia Basin.

This is an uncommon resident, migrant, and wintering species in western lowlands, and a rare to uncommon summer resident and migrant in the mountains and eastern lowlands.

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change

Low-
Moderate

Overall sensitivity of peregrine falcons is likely low-mod as this species utilizes a variety of habitat types and forages on a diversity of species. Coastal Peale's peregrine subspecies is highly dependent upon seabird prey; therefore climate change that affects ocean warming and upwelling in coastal areas could affect prey of seabird species (Cassin's auklet and Rhinoceros auklet). Studies in Hudson Bay demonstrate declines in peregrine productivity due to climate change and its affects on increased frequency of heavy rainfall events that lead to increased nestling mortality.

Confidence: Moderate

Exposure to climate change

Low-
Moderate

  • No specific climate factors identified as it is a generalist. See Sensitivity text>
Confidence: High

Regulations

Licenses and permits

A falconer holds a hooded peregrine falcon; view of the back side of the bird
A falconer displays a hooded peregrine falcon at a National Hunting and Fishing Day exhibit in Snohomish, Washington.

Falconry is the art of training raptors (birds of prey - falcons, eagles, hawks, and owls) to hunt in cooperation with a human and is the sport of actively pursuing wild quarry with those birds. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife issues falconry permits, regulates the sport, and remains in contact with the falconry community. No one under any circumstances may keep a raptor as a pet. Only licensed falconers may have birds of prey, and these birds must be flown freely and hunt regularly. State and federal regulations, expertise and dedication of falconers, and self-policing by the falconry community keep the birds in high-quality care. Learn more about the history of this sport and the requirements for falconry in Washington.

Conservation

This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
An adult peregrine falcon flying low over the water at Samish Flats, Skagit Wildlife Area
A peregrine falcon at the Samish Flats at the WDFW Skagit Wildlife Area.

Shortly after the Second World War, peregrine falcons exhibited well-documented population declines across North America and much of their global range following the widespread use of DDT. The falcon was listed nationally as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1970 and by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 1980 when only five pairs were found to be nesting statewide.

With the restriction placed on the use of DDT, the peregrine population has recovered and was removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999. In 2002 the species was reclassified as a state sensitive species after more than 70 territories were found occupied. In 2009, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife identified 108 occupied territories, an increase from 91 occupied territories in 2006, and a continued linear increase in the number of occupied territories since 1990. Over 170 breeding territories were documented as of 2014. By 2016, the species' state sensitive status was determined to be no longer applicable under Washington state law.

    Resources

    References

    Anderson, C. M. and S. G. Herman. 2005. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). Pp 126-127 in Wahl, T.R., B. Tweit, and S.G. Mlodinow (Eds.), Birds of Washington: status and distribution. Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA. 436 pp.

    White, C. M., N. J. Clum, T. J. Cade, and G. Hunt. 2002. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). The Birds of North America 660: 1-48.

    WDFW publications

    PHS Program

     

    Status reports

    Other resources