American Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus anatum

American Peregrine Falcon

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American Peregrine Falcon Distribition Map

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American Peregrine Falcon Conservation Status

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American peregrine falcons are medium-sized falcons, about 14-18 inches long, with long, narrow wings that span up to 46 inches. Adults have blue-gray backs and white chests with dark barring. Young falcons (less than one year old) have brown backs and white chests with brown streaks.

Habitats and Habits:
Peregrine falcons feed primarily on other birds which they catch in the air, often catching their prey in spectacular dives of up to 200 mph. Since peregrine falcons are predators that feed on other birds, they occupy a position at the top of the food chain. As such, peregrine falcons are often the first to show signs of environmental problems. American peregrine falcons occur from Mexico to Alaska. In Alaska, they nest throughout the forested interior, mainly on cliffs along rivers or near lakes. American peregrine falcons that nest in Alaska winter from the southern United States south to Argentina.

Causes of Decline:
The use of pesticides such as DDT was the primary cause of the decline of peregrine falcons. Pesticides used to control insects accumulate in tissues of insect-eating fish and birds. These poisonous chemicals are further concentrated by raptors that catch or consume insect eaters. Such chemicals affect peregrine falcons by directly killing them, affecting behavior (such as nest defense), and causing females to lay eggs with very thin shells. Restrictions on the use of these pesticides in 1972 have allowed American peregrine falcons to recover in most of their range. Currently, about 300 pairs nest in Alaska.

Research and Recovery:
Research on American peregrine falcons has focused on monitoring population size, breeding success, and pesticide levels. Additional research includes banding studies to determine migration routes, wintering areas, dispersal and mortality. Satellite telemetry has just recently been used to study migration and wintering ecology.

Information on wintering areas is especially important because some foreign countries continue to use chemicals that are harmful to peregrine falcons and other birds that nest in Alaska and winter in other countries. Recovery has been enhanced through careful protection of nest sites.

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