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The Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) can be found throughout most the world. Once widespread in Poland, it never occurred in large numbers. Although in the 1960s the species was extinct in Poland, at least ten pairs of falcons live now in our country. Credit for the recovery of the population can be attributed to the efforts of falconers and conservationists.

The species is now legally protected and has been included in the Polish Red Data Book of Animals, a publication which lists the endangered species. Measures to protect Peregrines were established as long ago as the Middle Ages. In fact, the Peregrine, on account of its significance to falconry, was one of the first protected species, besides Beaver, Aurochs and European Bison.

Peregrines display marked sexual size dimorphism: the male is the size of a pigeon, whereas the female measures up to 30 per cent larger. The body length is 36-50 cm and the wingspan is 95-115 cm. In adults, the back is blue-grey, the underside is pale with dark streaks and the breast is finely barred with black and white. Juveniles, on the other hand, have brownish backs and upperparts and and lighter brown undersides with dark streaks. All specimens have a characteristic single dark 'moustache' and a dark head contrasted by the pale cheeks. The beak is short, notched near the tip, with the characteristic 'tooth.' The legs, cere and eye ring are all bright yellow. The nostrils are circular with a distinct central point. The eye is very dark with a barely distinguishable pupil . The wings are long, narrow and pointed, and the tail is short. Flapping flight alternates with long periods of gliding. The Peregrine is an aerial predator that hunts medium-sized birds, solely in flight. It attacks by a stoop, often from a considerable height at speeds of up to 360 km/h. By the end of March or the beginning of April, the female lays 3-5 dark reddish flecked eggs and incubates them for 32 days. The chicks stay in the nest for about 6 weeks, then they start learning to fend for themselves. When they become independent, the young falcons wander. In Central Europe when they reach sexual maturity, they tend to become sedentary.

Throughout most of the world the Peregrine nests in a scrape, normally on cliffs using natural cavities.

A tree-nesting ecotype of the falcon, which used to live also in Poland, was a phenomenon of interest on a global scale. Its population in Europe was estimated at ca. 1,600-2,000 pairs. Pollution with pesticides triggered a massive decrease in the size of the peregrine falcon population and the tree-nesting ecotype is now extinct.

Falcons have been used by man for hunting for thousands of years. Falconers were the first ones to protect the species; at the turn of 1960s and 1970s, they developed the methods of intensive breeding and reintroducing them into the wild.

In Poland, falconers started a Peregrine reintroduction project in 1990 which covered the mountains (the Pieniny Mountains in the Western Carpathian range on the Polish-Slovakian border) and in the forests of central, western and north-western Poland, where 90% of the 300 falcons have been released). The programme has been coordinated by the Council for Peregrine Restitution in Poland and supervised by the Ministry of the Environment.

The falcon's new biotope is the city, free of its natural enemies and full of food, where high buildings substitute cliffs. The first breeding attempt in this urban environment occurred in 1998 in Warsaw, when the birds nested on the Palace of Culture and Science.

Up to today, over 100 chicks have hatched in more than ten recorded nests (including the ones in the Pieniny mountains).

In addition to the continuation of the reintroduction programme, monitoring is also an important factor (nest recording, ringing of chicks, locating new pairs, installing artificial nests, ongoing guarding of nest sites). The monitoring of the population of the Peregrine Falcon in Poland is coordinated by the Society for the Wild Animals 'Sokół' ['Falcon']. The Society closely cooperates with the specialists from the European Peregrine Falcon Working Group.

Please submit any observations of Peregrine Falcons by e-mail to We would also welcome contact from any persons interested in supporting activities aimed at protecting the Peregrine.

Sławomir Sielicki, Janusz Sielicki
The Society for the Wild Animals 'Sokół'