Peregrine Falcon and Merlin

The Alaska Zoo has two falcon species, the peregrine falcon and the merlin. Back to animal directory.

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peale's peregrine falcon

LIFE SPAN: 13 to 20 years in wild, up to 25 years in captivity.

RANGE:  The peregrine falcon is one of the most widespread birds in the world. It is found worldwide, except for rain forests and cold, dry Arctic regions. These falcons prefer open habitats like grasslands, tundra and meadows and they nest on cliff faces and crevices.

SIZE: Roughly crow-sized, about 15 to 21 inches long with a wingspan of about 40 inches. 

PHYSICAL FEATURES: Peale’s peregrine falcons are the largest peregrine falcon subspecies in the world. Adults have slate blue-gray wings, backs barred with black, pale undersides, white faces with a black stripe on each cheek, and large, dark eyes. Young peregrine falcons are darker and more brown.

FOOD:  Peregrine falcons feed mostly on other birds (songbirds, shorebirds, ducks, starling and pigeons), but they will also eat small mammals and reptiles. 

BEHAVIOR:  These falcons are known for their spectacular dives, called stoops, used for capturing their prey. During stoops, these falcons can reach speeds over 200 miles per hour, making it the fastest bird in the world.

Peregrines reach breeding maturity at about 2 years of age. The male’s aerial acrobatic displays attract their mate at the nesting site. An average of 4 eggs are laid in the spring and hatch after about a month. Peregrine falcons vigorously defend their nests.

CONSERVATION:  Peregrine falcons in the United States were nearly extirpated by the use of the pesticide DDT about 60 years ago and were placed on the endangered species list in 1970. The nationwide ban of DDT in 1973, along with a reintroduction effort, resulted in a very successful recovery for peregrine falcons and in 1999 the falcon was removed from the list. Populations have continued to slowly increase since that time. Still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Illegal to harm or possess any part, including feathers (unless permitted by USFWS).



LIFE SPAN: 7 to 10 years in captivity, up to 12 years in wild.

RANGE: Common throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Live primarily in open country, preferring grasslands, seashores, sand dunes, marshlands, steppes and deserts.

SIZE: May weigh between 5 to 8oz. Wingspan of 20 to 27 inches.

PHYSICAL FEATURES: Merlins are small, broad falcons; stockier than the slightly smaller American Kestrel. They have sharply pointed wings, a broad chest and medium–length tail. They can be distinguished from larger falcons by their rapid wingbeats and overall dark tones.

FOOD: Prey mainly on small birds (birds of the ground and low vegetation), but will also take large insects, bats and small mammals. Common prey include larks, sparrows, Bohemian waxwings, finches, ptarmigans and grouse.

BEHAVIOR:  Solitary outside of breeding season. Pairs began to bond 1-2 months prior to egg-laying, remain monogamous during breeding season, and roughly 80% find new mates from year to year. They do not buildtheir own nests, they instead use tree cavities, ledges or cliffs, or abandoned nests of corvids or other raptor species. The female incubates 4-6 eggs for25-32 days while the male brings her food. The young fledge 25-35        days after hatching and remain dependent on the parents for up to 5-6 weeks thereafter.

CONSERVATION: Protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This speciesis widely distributed with mostly stable or increasing populations, however, in the state of Michigan it is listed as threatened. Expanding human development interferes with breeding habitats and hunting grounds.

PLANT NOTES:  The merlin utilizes the abandoned nests of other birds in either coniferous or deciduous trees of semi open areas. On rare occasions they may nest in tree cavities or on cliffs. Trees for nesting resources, and vegetation for prey availability, are necessary for this species to thrive.