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Peregrine

The Emblem of the Hawk and Owl Trust, the Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) is the Largest Falcon Breeding in Britain

Peregrine falcon on a rocky outcrop Pete Walkden
Peregrine falcon on a rocky outcrop © Pete Walkden

Status in UK
1,400 pairs, increasing; AMBER listed; resident and passage/winter migrants from Scandinavia

Population Trends
Before the Second World War the population was stable at c.700 pairs, suppressed by persecution and restricted to the north and west. During the War half the population was killed to protect homing pigeons carrying military messages.

The population recovered to pre-war levels by the 1950s, only to collapse to some 400 pairs due to the effects of persistent toxic agricultural chemicals such as DDT. These also caused less than a fifth of those remaining to breed successfully. The persistent chemicals accumulated in the food chain and concentrated in apex predators, at the top of the food chain, such as peregrines and other birds of prey, causing increased adult mortality, eggshell thinning and reduced breeding performance. By the mid 1960s 80% of the UK peregrine population had perished. Only birds in the remoter parts of Scottish Highlands were unaffected.

The Hawk and Owl Trust nest box on the spire at Norwich Cathedral
The Hawk and Owl Trust nest box on the spire at Norwich Cathedral

With the restrictions in the use of these chemicals, the population has steadily increased. The birds have re-colonised old sites and moved south. They have also begun to breed on buildings in urban areas, where natural sites are not available. Structures such as cathedrals and high building which are surrounded by a plentiful food source in feral pigeons mimic the peregrines natural clifftop breeding ground. By the late 1990s numbers reached pre-decline levels over much of their former range, but in the south east and east of England the recovery has been slow, and the range is now contracting again in northern Scotland. Persecution still occurs with eggs and young taken and adults killed.

The Hawk and Owl Trust and its local groups organise wardening of nest sites and set up observation points for the public such as the famous watchpoint at Norwich Cathedral, allowing city dwellers to view this fabulous wild creature up close. Click Here for more information on our Urban Peregrine Project at Norwich Cathedral.

Habitat and Distribution
Peregrines are found in open country, including moorland, farmland, wetlands and the coast.

They breed throughout Scotland, Wales, the north and south-west of England and coastal areas of Northern Ireland. They now also breed in several major cities. In winter they can also be seen along the south and eastern coastal areas of England.

Breeding
Pairs return to traditional sites on cliffs and inland quarries. The species also uses ledges on high buildings in many of our cities.

Feeding
Peregrines mostly take birds in flight, from goldcrests to grey herons and even geese. Prey reflects those available, but feral pigeons are especially favoured, as well as starlings and thrushes; seabirds are important on the coast.

Other Diurnal Birds of Prey