The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), also known as the Peregrine, and historically as the “Duck Hawk” in North America, is a cosmopolitan bird of prey in the family Falconidae. It is a large, crow-sized falcon, with a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a black head and “moustache”. It can reach speeds over 320 km/h (200 mph) in a stoop, making it one of the fastest creatures on the planet. As is common with bird-eating raptors, the female is much bigger than the male. Experts recognize 17 to 19 subspecies which vary in appearance and range; there is disagreement over whether the distinctive Barbary Falcon is a subspecies or a distinct species.
Breeding ranges of the subspeciesNumerous subspecies of the Peregrine have been described, with 19 accepted by the Handbook of the Birds of the World.
Falco peregrinus peregrinus, the nominate subspecies, described by Tunstall in 1771, breeds over much of temperate Eurasia between the tundra in the north and the Pyrenees, Mediterranean region and Alpide belt in the south. It is mainly non-migratory in Europe, but migratory in Scandinavia and Asia. Males weigh 580 to 750 grams (1.3–1.7 lb), while females weigh 925 to 1,300 grams (2.04–2.9 lb). It includes brevirostris, germanicus, rhenanus, and riphaeus.
Falco peregrinus calidus, described by John Latham in 1790, was formerly called leucogenys and includes caeruleiceps. It breeds in the Arctic tundra of Eurasia, from Murmansk Oblast to roughly Yana and Indigirka Rivers, Siberia. It is completely migratory, and travels south in winter as far as sub-Saharan Africa. It is paler than peregrinus, especially on the crown. Males weigh 588 to 740 grams (1.30–1.6 lb), while females weigh 925 to 1,333 grams (2.04–2.94 lb).
Falco peregrinus japonensis, described by Gmelin in 1788, includes kleinschmidti and pleskei, and harterti seems to refer to intergrades with calidus. It is found from northeast Siberia to Kamchatka (though it is possibly replaced by pealei on coast there), and Japan. Northern populations are migratory, while those of Japan are resident. It is similar to peregrinus, but the young are even darker than those of anatum.
Australian race F. p. macropusFalco peregrinus macropus, described by Swainson in 1837 is the Australian Peregrine Falcon. It is found in Australia in all regions except the southwest. It is non-migratory. It is similar to brookei in appearance, but is slightly smaller and the ear region is entirely black. The feet are proportionally large.
Falco peregrinus submelanogenys described by Mathews in 1912, is the Southwest Australian Peregrine Falcon. It is found in southwest Australia and is non-migratory.
Falco peregrinus peregrinator, described by Sundevall in 1837, is known as the Indian Peregrine Falcon, Black Shaheen, or Indian Shaheen. It was formerly sometimes known as Falco atriceps or Falco shaheen. Its range includes South Asia from Pakistan across India and Bangladesh to Sri Lanka and Southeastern China; in Pakistan it is a military symbol of the Pakistan Air Force. It is non-migratory. It is small and dark, with rufous underparts barred with lighter color. In Sri Lanka this species is found to favour the higher hills while the migrant calidus is more often seen along the coast. A population estimate of 40 breeding pairs in Sri Lanka was made in 1996.
Falco peregrinus anatum, described by Bonaparte in 1838, is known as the American Peregrine Falcon, or “Duck Hawk”; its scientific name means “Duck Peregrine Falcon”. At one time, it was partly included in leucogenys. It is mainly found in the Rocky Mountains today. It was formerly common throughout North America between the tundra and northern Mexico, where current reintroduction efforts seek to restore the population. Most mature anatum, except those that breed in more northern areas, winter in their breeding range. Most vagrants that reach western Europe seem to belong to the more northern and strongly migratory tundrius, only considered distinct since 1968. It is similar to peregrinus but is slightly smaller; adults are somewhat paler and less patterned below, but juveniles are darker and more patterned below. Males weigh 500 to 570 grams (1.1–1.3 lb), while females weigh 900 to 960 grams (2.0–2.1 lb).
Falco peregrinus cassini, described by Sharpe in 1873, is also known as the Austral Peregrine Falcon. It includes kreyenborgi, the Pallid Falcon a leucistic morph occurring in southernmost South America, which was long believed to be a distinct species. Its range includes South America from Ecuador through Bolivia, northern Argentina and Chile to Tierra del Fuego and Falkland Islands. It is non-migratory. It is similar to nominate, but slightly smaller with a black ear region. The variation kreyenborgi is medium grey above, has little barring below, and has a head pattern like the Saker Falcon, but the ear region is white.
Captive bird of the subspecies pealei
Subspecies minor, illustration by Keulemans, 1874Falco peregrinus pealei, described by Ridgway in 1873, is also known as Peale’s Falcon, and includes rudolfi. It is found in the Pacific Northwest of North America, northwards from the Puget Sound along the British Columbia coast (including the Queen Charlotte Islands), along the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to the far eastern Bering Sea coast of Russia. It is possibly found on the Kuril Islands and the coasts of Kamchatka as well. It is non-migratory. It is the largest subspecies, and it looks like an oversized and darker tundrius or like a strongly barred and large anatum. The bill is very wide. Juveniles occasionally have pale crowns.
Falco peregrinus tundrius, described by C.M. White in 1968, was at one time included in leucogenys It is found in the Arctic tundra of North America to Greenland. It migrates to wintering grounds in Central and South America. Most vagrants that reach western Europe belong to this subspecies, which was previously united with anatum. It is the New World equivalent to calidus. It is smaller than anatum. It is also paler than anatum; most have a conspicuous white forehead and white in ear region, but the crown and “moustache” are very dark, unlike in calidus. Juveniles are browner, and less grey, than in calidus, and paler, sometimes almost sandy, than in anatum.
Falco peregrinus madens, described by Ripley and Watson in 1963, is unusual in having some sexual dichromatism. If the Barbary Falcon (see below) is considered a distinct species, it is sometimes placed therein. It is found in the Cape Verde Islands, and is non-migratory; it is endangered with only six to eight pairs surviving. Males have a rufous wash on crown, nape, ears and back; underside conspicuously washed pinkish-brown. Females are tinged rich brown overall, especially on the crown and nape.
Falco peregrinus minor was first described by Bonaparte in 1850. It was formerly often perconfusus. It is sparsely and patchily distributed throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and widespread in Southern Africa. It apparently reaches north along the Atlantic coast as far as Morocco. It is non-migratory, and small and dark.
Falco peregrinus radama, described by Hartlaub in 1861, is found in Madagascar and Comoros. It is non-migratory.
Falco peregrinus brookei, described by Sharpe in 1873, is also known as the Mediterranean Peregrine Falcon or the Maltese Falcon. It includes caucasicus and most specimens of the proposed race punicus, though others may be pelegrinoides, Barbary Falcons (see also below), or perhaps the rare hybrids between these two which might occur around Algeria. They occur from the Iberian Peninsula around the Mediterranean, except in arid regions, to the Caucasus. They are non-migratory. It is smaller than the nominate subspecies, and the underside usually has rusty hue. Males weigh around 445 grams (0.98 lb), while females weigh up to 920 grams (2.0 lb).
Painting of subspecies babylonicus by John GouldFalco peregrinus ernesti, described by Sharpe in 1894, is found from Indonesia to Philippines and south to Papua New Guinea and Bismarck Archipelago. Its geographical separation from nesiotes requires confirmation. It is non-migratory. It differs from the nominate in the very dark, dense barring on its underside and its black ear coverts.
Falco peregrinus furuitii, described by Momiyama in 1927, is found on the Izu and Ogasawara Islands. It is non-migratory. It is very rare, and may only remain on a single island. It is a dark form, resembling pealei in color, but darker, especially on tail.
Falco peregrinus nesiotes described by Mayr in 1941, is found in Fiji and probably also Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It is non-migratory.
Falco peregrinus pelegrinoides, first described by Temminck in 1829, is found in the Canary Islands through north Africa and the Near East to Mesopotamia. It is most similar to brookei, but is markedly paler above, with a rusty neck, and is a light buff with reduced barring below. It is smaller than the nominate subspecies; females weigh around 610 grams (1.3 lb).
Falco peregrinus babylonicus described by P.L. Sclater in 1861, is found in eastern Iran along the Hindu Kush and Tian Shan to Mongolian Altai ranges. It is paler than pelegrinoides, and somewhat similar to a small, pale Lanner Falcon. Males weigh 330 to 400 grams (12 to 14 oz), while females weigh 513 to 765 grams (18.1 to 27.0 oz).
These last two races are often split as Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides. There is a 0.6–0.7% genetic distance in the Peregine-Barbary Falcon (“peregrinoid”) complex. These birds inhabit arid regions from the Canary Islands along the rim of the Sahara through the Middle East to Central Asia and Mongolia. They have a red neck patch but otherwise differ in appearance from the Peregrine proper merely according to Gloger’s Rule. The Barbary Falcon has a peculiar way of flying, beating only the outer part of its wings like fulmars sometimes do; this also occurs in the Peregrine, but less often and far less pronounced. The Barbary Falcon’s shoulder and pelvis bones are stout by comparison with the Peregrine, and its feet are smaller. They have no postzygotic reproduction barriers in place, but they breed at different times of year than neighboring Peregrine Falcon subspecies.