Peregrine Falcon standing on a rock in Wood Buffalo National Park Canada.
Peregrine Falcon anatum subspecies in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada.

Peregrine falcons are predatory birds renowned for their grace and speed in the air. They dive at their bird prey from great heights, attacking at speeds that can exceed 300 km/hr. There are three subspecies of peregrines – anatum, Peale’s, and tundra. The anatum subspecies is widely distributed throughout North America, and has experienced the greatest population decline. Widespread use of DDT in the 1950’s and 1960’s affected the birds’ reproduction by interfering with breeding behavior and causing a thinning of the eggshells. Peregrine falcons (anatum subspecies) were classified as endangered in 1978 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). While the peregrines are doing much better now, they continue to be vulnerable to environmental toxins which accumulate in their food chain.

What is the Peregrine Falcon?

Two immature Peregrine Falcons resting in their nest
Peregrines lay their eggs in late April or early May and clutch size varies between 2 to 5 eggs.

Peregrine falcons are predatory birds renowned for their grace and speed in the air. They are blue-gray in color on the back, rump, and upper surface of the wings, as well as on the crown. The dark feathers on the head resemble a hood with chinstraps. The throat is white and the white underside is speckled with dark horizontal bars. Like other falcons, the peregrines have a tooth-like projection on the upper half of their sharp hooked bill.

Peregrines are famous for their aerial hunting techniques. They dive at their bird prey from great heights, attacking at speeds that can exceed 300 km/hr. Prey are usually disabled or killed instantly in the air by a single blow from the clenched talons. Smaller birds may be snatched from the air, while larger birds may be allowed to tumble to the ground. Peregrines have special baffles in their nostrils, which allow them to breathe during their high-speed dives.

There are three subspecies of peregrines – anatum, Peale’s, and tundra. The anatum subspecies is most widely distributed throughout North America, and has experienced the greatest population decline.

Where is the Peregrine Falcon found?

Peregrine falcons can stoop dive to speeds of over 300 km/hr when attacking their bird prey. Their prey may range in size from smaller birds such as songbirds or flickers, to larger birds such as gulls and ducks.

Peregrine falcons (anatum subspecies) have traditionally nested south of the treeline throughout North America as well as in central and southern Mexico. In the mid-1930’s it was estimated that there were 1000 nesting pairs in North America. Widespread use of DDT in the 1950’s to 1960’s affected the birds’ reproduction, resulting in a dramatic decline in their population numbers. By 1975 there were only 35 nesting pairs left in Canada. Since then, peregrine populations have made a comeback due to effective conservation and recovery efforts, which included the banning of DDT in North America.

The Northeastern Alberta population of peregrines was discovered in 1971. The known nesting range for this small population extends from Lake Athabasca and Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada, to the Fort Smith region in the southern Northwest Territories. By 2005, this population had increased to 31 nesting pairs, from a low of nine pairs in 1990.

What is the status of the Peregrine Falcon?

Peregrine falcons (anatum subspecies) were classified as endangered in 1978 by the COSEWIC. The success of recovery efforts by the Canadian Wildlife Service and other partners resulted in a downlisting of the anatum subspecies to threatened in 1999. In 2005, it was estimated that there were 800 nesting pairs (anatum subspecies) in Canada.

Why is the Peregrine Falcon in danger?

Young Peregrine Falcon standing on a cliff ledge.
Peregrines are excellent hunters, feeding almost entirely on birds, usually catching their prey in mid-flight.

As predators at the top of the food chain, peregrines accumulate environmental toxins. Widespread use of DDT in the 1950’s and 1960’s affected the birds’ reproduction by interfering with breeding behavior and causing a thinning of the eggshells. The result was a dramatic decline in the North American population. By 1975 there were only 35 nesting pairs left in Canada.

While the peregrines are doing much better now, due to intensive recovery efforts and the banning of DDT in North America, they are still at risk. Some Central and South American countries still use DDT, potentially exposing the birds to this chemical when they migrate there for the winter. Today, peregrines continue to be vulnerable to environmental toxins, which accumulate in their food chain.

Why protect the Peregrine Falcon?

Parks Canada resource conservation staff banding a Peregrine Falcon.
Each year Parks Canada conservation staff assist in Peregrine Falcon ecological monitoring, research and annual nesting surveys.

As predatory birds at the top of their food chain, peregrine falcons are important both to the ecosystem and to biodiversity in Canada. They continue to be vulnerable to the effects of chemical pollutants such as pesticides. Anyone who has seen the amazing aerobatics of peregrine falcons in flight would agree that this majestic bird should be protected for the benefit of future generations.

In Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service has a lead role in the management and protection of peregrine falcons, with the assistance of other partners. Management and protection of the Northeastern Alberta population has been a joint effort between the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Alberta government (Sustainable Resource Development), and Parks Canada (Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada).

What is Parks Canada doing to protect the Peregrine Falcon?

Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada protects nesting sites of the peregrine falcon. These sites are classified as Zone 1 Special Preservation under the Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada Management Plan. Public access is prohibited due to the extreme sensitivity of the birds while they are nesting and raising their young.

Park resource conservation staff assist Canadian Wildlife Service and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development staff with ecological monitoring, research, and annual nesting surveys. As a result of these efforts, the Northeastern Alberta population has increased from a low of nine pairs in 1990, to 31 pairs in 2005.

The presence of Peregrine falcons in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada is very special, and is one reason why the park is a World Heritage Site.

Peregrine Falcon in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada.
The presence of the Peregrine Falcon in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada is very special, and is one reason why the park is a World Heritage Site.

How can I help?

  • Be a good steward of your land, and support the efforts of organizations that help protect the environment. Try to reduce your ecological footprint.
  • Learn more about peregrine falcons through reading or on the internet, and tell others what you have learned
  • Join (or start!) a conservation effort in your community.