Occurring over vast regions of the earth, the adaptable Peregrine Falcon nests both in the wild as it always has, but also in urban settings on buildings. Best known for its epic stoops in pursuit of prey that can exceed 200 miles per hour, Peregrine Falcons feed mainly on a wide variety of bird species.
For many centuries, Peregrine Falcons have been raised and trained by falconers who admire its hunting prowess and aerial abilities. Some of these techniques were used in restoring Peregrine Falcon populations after they declined due in large part to the use of the pesticide DDT, which acted to thin the birds’ eggshells to the point where they would break during incubation.
Enjoy these close-up and slow motion flight video of an adult Peregrine Falcon. See if you can identify the bird the falcon selected for dinner.
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Description of the Peregrine Falcon
The Peregrine Falcon is blue-gray above and barred brownish and white below. They have a heavy, dark malar stripe below the eye.
Plumages range from vary pale to very dark. In some races, adult shows rusty wash on neck and chest. Length: 16 in. Wingspan: 41 in.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles have heavy brown streaking rather than barring on the breast, and have brownish upperparts.
Peregrine Falcons inhabit cliffs and mountains. They have also adapted to life in the big city, soaring among sky scrappers to feed on Rock Doves.
Peregrine Falcons eat birds.
Related: Falcon vs eagle
Peregrine Falcons forage by flying high to observe prey, and then plummeting spectacularly to snatch it out of midair. They also pursue prey in flight.
Peregrine Falcons breed in Alaska and northern Canada, and are resident along parts of the east and west coasts. It occurs as a migrant across the whole of the U.S. It is also a cosmopolitan species, occurring worldwide. The population has increased in recent decades.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Peregrine Falcon.
The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.
Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History
When in full stoop after prey, Peregrine Falcons can surpass 200 miles per hour.
Peregrine Falcons declined dramatically due to the use of the pesticide DDT. After a ban, and intensive restoration efforts, Peregrine Falcons have made a remarkable recovery.
The call consists of a raucous scold.
Prairie Falcons have paler upperparts and pale wing linings contrasting with darker underwings.
Adult Merlin has similar steel-blue back and streaked underparts. It lacks the black on the side of the head and is much smaller than the Peregrine.
The Peregrine Falcon’s nest usually consists of a scrape on a cliff ledge, building ledge, or an old stick nest of another species.
Number: Usually lay 3-4 eggs.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 32-35 days, and fledge at about 39-49 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Peregrine Falcon
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Peregrine Falcon – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
FALCO PEREGRINUS ANATUM BonaparteHABITS
This noble falcon is our representative of a world-wide species, of which some 16 races have been recognized in various parts of the world, including all the continents and most of the principal islands. The best known of these races is the European form, F. p. peregrinus, from which our bird differs in having a whiter throat and upper breast, with little or no dark marking; our bird also has a wider moustacial stripe and more black on the sides of the head. The European race is on our Check-List as “casual in Greenland”, but the best authorities now refer all Greenland birds to anatum (see p. 42).
I do not like the name duck hawk, as it suggests a close relationship to the hen hawks and other ignoble hawks; neither do I like the old name great-footed hawk, used by Audubon and some of the early writers; this suggests clumsiness, a trait far removed from this graceful and agile falcon. I should prefer to call it the American peregrine falcon, but duck hawk seems to be the established name.
This large falcon is widely distributed in North America, breeding from beyond the tree limits in Arctic regions southward to some of the more southern States; it is very rare on the central plains and is nowhere abundant, though its range extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is an eventful day when one can see and admire the dashing flight of this bold warrior.
Joseph A. Hagar, Massachusetts State ornithologist, has been very active for the past two years, 1935 and 1936, in protecting the duck hawk in this State. He has visited repeatedly all the known aeries in the State, some dozen or more, spent many full days in the field each season, making as many as a dozen or more trips in a season to a number of them, and made an intensive study of the habits of this interesting falcon. He has taken voluminous notes and accumulated many valuable data on the subject, all of which he has generously placed at my disposal. He contributes the following interesting account of the spring and courtship activities:
Courtship: “In Massachusetts adult duck hawks reoccupy the breeding stations before the end of February, and since the first eggs are not laid before March 25 or April 1, there is a long and interesting courtship. So wonderful are the aerial evolutions of the peregrines during this season that I am inclined to think that no observer can fully appreciate their powers of flight who has not seen them at the nesting site on a windy March day; every movement, no matter how extended, is centered about the home cliff, so that its whole course may be traced, which is not usually the case at other seasons and places.
“There is some evidence that it is the male bird that is strongly attached to the cliff: that he returns there first and endeavors to attract a female, but if unsuccessful, remains there throughout the summer, while unmated females apparently roam about from place to place. Whether the duck hawk mates for life, and the female of the previous season returns directly to the cliff, if still alive (as has been generally assumed), I am not yet prepared to say, but I do recall very vividly a little drama that throws considerable light on the initial stages of courtship. This took place at Mount Sugarloaf on March 16 and involved a male peregrine that at that date, some three weeks after his return to the mountain, appeared to be still unmated. I had been watching him for more than an hour as he sat quietly on a dead pine above the cliff and during this whole period had heard no call or seen no such animation as is associated with the courting period. Suddenly, at about 9 o’clock, he launched out from his perch and began to sail back and forth along the face of the cliff, repeatedly giving the wichew or rusty-hinge note. A moment later I spotted a large female peregrine coming up the valley from the south, some 200 feet above the mountain. Arriving abreast of the cliff, she began to describe wide circles over the crest, flying very leisurely and seeming to watch the proceedings below her; the tercel redoubled his cries and flew from one shelf to another, alighting for a moment on each one and then swinging along to the next, with every appearance of the greatest excitement. The falcon, having presently completed three or four circles, now straightened her course toward the north, and picking up speed with every stroke of her wings soon disappeared in the haze along North Sugarloaf; the male continued his vain activity, wailing and wichew-ing for nearly a minute after she had passed from sight. He then made a short silent sally out over the valley and finally returned to sit hunched up and quiet on his dead tree for many minutes, before leaving on a hunting expedition behind the mountain. This episode introduces several of the elements of the courtship: the flight display, the shelf display, the coaxing wichew note: and it remains only to elaborate on their use and to mention the food-bringing routine.
“The male assumes an aggressive role throughout the first part of the period, seeming to arouse and lead on the female from step to step of the reproductive cycle. With both birds at a cliff, early in March, the first business of each morning is feeding. Shortly after daylight the falcons will be discovered perched on their favorite dead trees on the upper part of the cliff, watching closely for the passing of some smaller bird suitable for prey. If none appears near at hand the male will sally out at intervals and go far across the valley, returning perhaps at the end of 20 or 30 minutes with a blue jay hanging limp in his talons. lie wails while still at a distance, and the female, wailing in return, flies to meet him and receives the bird in the usual way. Or perhaps his search has been in vain, and he suddenly plunges down from a great height, empty-footed, to resume the watch from his perching tree. Perchance a flicker now appears flying up the valley at a considerable height above the trees, but still below the level of the hawks; they both start out from their trees and, stroking steadily, converge on the unfortunate bird with a speed and deadly earnestness chilling to the onlooker. The female takes the lead. The flicker sees its peril too late, and in a trice the falcon snatches it dead in the air and, turning sharply about, heads back for the cliff while her mate convoys her from behind. She lights on her tree, holding the bird against the branch with one foot, and in another moment flicker feathers are drifting down-wind as she eagerly plucks her booty. Meanwhile the tercel sallies forth again over the valley and this time returns with his bird. There are many variations of this morning scene: the birds may go away hunting together, the male may make his kill near the cliff, or the female may miss her stoop, in which case the tercel often stoops at the same bird: but certain parts of the pattern are quite invariable. In general, the female stays closer to home; if they both chase the same bird, the female makes the first stoop; and she eats the first bird whether she kills it herself or the male brings it to her.
“Having fed, the hawks are likely to sit quietly for some little time, occasionally wailing to each other, preening their feathers, perhaps lazily stretching first one wing and then the other. At length the tercel starts off his perch and begins to soar and swoop about the cliff, describing a series of figure-eights in the air, sometimes in a horizontal, sometimes a vertical, plane. At times he lights on little shelves and wichews; again he returns to his tree and wails, or perhaps he soars higher and higher in the air, farther and farther out across the valley, until at last he shuts Us wings to Us sides and plunges down in a mile-long swoop that brings him back to the cliff. Sometimes the falcon accompanies him on these flights, but for the most part she is distinctly passive. The culmination of these flight displays depends much on the weather, but eventually the patient watcher will see an exhibition of flying that is literally breath-taking. I have seen it at many nest sites, but never to better advantage than one beautiful spring morning at Black Rock when a rising southerly gale was whipping along the flanks of Mount Everett. We were hidden in the woods below the south end of the cliff, and the peregrines were quite unconscious of our presence at the time; again and again the tercel started well to leeward and came along the cliff against the wind, diving, plunging, saw-toothing, rolling over and over, darting hither and yon like an autumn leaf until finally he would swoop up into the full current of air and be borne off on the gale to do it all over again. At length he tired of this, and, soaring in narrow circles without any movement of his wings other than a constant small adjustment of their planes, he rose to a position 500 or 600 feet above the mountain and north of the cliff. Nosing over suddenly, he flicked his wings rapidly 15 or 20 times and fell like a thunderbolt. Wings half closed now, he shot down past the north end of the clilf, described three successive vertical loop-the-loops across its face, turning completely upside down at the top of each loop, and roared out over our heads with the wind rushing through his wings like ripping canvas. Against the background of the cliff his terrific speed was much more apparent than it would have been in the open sky. The sheer excitement of watching such a performance was tremendous; we felt a strong impulse to stand and cheer.
“As March advances, the male peregrine tries more and more to entice the female to certain shelves he has picked out. Between hunting trips and exercising flights above the valley he spends long intervals on these shelves, scratching around in the debris, wichew-ing in his most persuasive tones, standing at their front edges breast out to the sun, wailing mournfully now and then, and even flying to the female’s roost tree to wichew at her in soft conversational tones. At first she pays no attention, nor leaves her tree, but gradually her passivity gives way to mild interest; she flies to the shelf where he is working and lights there; they both walk back out of sight and for a moment there is an outburst of argumentative wichew-ing and creaking as she seems to disagree emphatically with all his plans. Either bird may come off first, leaving the other to scratch and dig around, but as a rule they do not both stay. At any time now the female may be seen to return to her tree alone; the male wichews excitedly at one or more shelves and then comes off the cliff, flies directly to her with no other preliminaries, and copulation takes place to the accompaniment of a low, conversational, chuckling noise, which is entirely distinct from the usual notes. Coition is more likely to occur near the middle of the day and is usually repeated within an hour or so; it is also repeated on succeeding days until at least two eggs are in the nest.
“The interest of the male in nesting shelves now begins to wane in inverse proportion to the female’s increasing, though somewhat furtive, activity. While he is away hunting she may be seen going all over the cliff, squeezing into the most inadequate cracks and niches, scratching and scraping with bill and feet, turning round and round to get the feel of tentative nest hollows. At length she chooses the site, apparently with no reference to the male’s previous selection, and in the course of a few days makes a smooth well-rounded scrape an inch or two deep. If disturbed at this time she is very likely to pick a new site at once and hurriedly prepare it, and I have several times had the experience of watching a falcon carefully form a nest hollow only to return after a short interval and discover the first eggs in quite a different spot on the cliff. The eggs are laid at intervals of every other day, with often two full days between the third and fourth.”
Nesting: I shall never forget how my youthful enthusiasm was fired by reading in my ornithological primer, Samuels’s “Birds of New England”, the thrilling account of the taking of the eggs of the great-footed hawk on Mount Tom by C. W. Bennett, on April 19, 1864, and how I longed to have a similar experience. But it was many years before I had the pleasure of visiting this historic old aerie. Duck hawks had been known to breed in the Holyoke Range, including Mount Tom, in central Massachusetts, and on Talcott Mountain in Connecticut since 1861, where they had probably nested for many previous years. Dr. J. A. Allen (1869) says that the eggs taken by Mr. Bennett “were the first eggs of the duck hawk known to naturalists to have been obtained in the United States, the previous most southern locality whence they had been taken being Labrador.” He says further:
Mr. C. W. Bennett, of Holyoke, their discoverer, has since carefully watched them, and his frequent laborious searches for their nest have been well rewarded. In 1866 he took a second set of eggs, three in number, from the eyrie previously occupied. In 1867 the male bird was killed late in April, and this apparently prevented their breeding there that year, as they probably otherwise would have done. At least no nest was that year discovered. In 1868 hawks of this species were seen about the mountains, and although they reared their young there, all effort to discover their nest was ineffectual. The present year (1869) they commenced to lay in the old nesting place, but as they were robbed when but one egg had been deposited, they deserted it and chose a site still more inaccessible. Here they were equally unfortunate, for during a visit to this mountain, in company with Mr. Bennett (April 28th), we had the great pleasure of discovering their second eyrie, and from which, with considerable difficulty, three freshly laid eggs were obtained. Not discouraged by this second misfortune, they nested again, this time depositing their eggs in the old eyrie from which all except the last set of eggs have been obtained. Again they were unfortunate, Mr. Bennett removing their second set of eggs, three in number, May 23d, at which time incubation had just commenced. The birds remained about the mountain all the summer, and from the anxiety they manifested in August it appears not improbable that they laid a third time, and at this late period had unfledged young.
Probably these falcons, or their successors, have nested on Mount Tom ever since then. When we visited this locality on April 14, 1928, we found the nest situated on a shelf of rock 55 feet from the base of a nearly perpendicular cliff, 120 feet high, above a long, sloping talus of broken rock. The photograph (p1. 11) taken by my companion, Robert L. Coffin, shows the general location very well but gives only a faint idea of the beauty of the landscape spread out before us, the alluvial plain of the Connecticut River with its panorama of fields, gardens, orchards, and woodlands, dotted with farm houses and intersected by the winding, silvery thread of the river. The ledge, on which the aerie was located, was about 14 feet long, 6 feet wide at its widest part, and only 20 inches wide at the nest. Some grass and moss were growing on it, a gray birch sapling grew near the center, and a few very small birch saplings fringed the narrow end in front of the nest. The four handsome eggs lay in a slight hollow, an inch and a half deep and about 12 inches wide, scraped in the accumulated soil and rubbish, and surrounded by flakes of rock, a few twigs, scattering bird bones, several pellets, and an aluminum band from the leg of a carrier pigeon. The nest is well illustrated in the photograph (p1. 11) taken by my other companion, Frank C. Willard, who climbed up to the nest from below, while I handled the ropes on the top of the cliff.
On that same trip, in the same general region, we visited four other nesting sites, at all of which the birds were in evidence and solicitous; at one place we failed to locate the nest, and at the others the nests were empty, evidently robbed. On Sugarloaf Mountain the empty scrape was on a small shelf, less than 10 feet from the top of the high cliff and easily accessible. The aerie on Mount Tekoa was also easily reached, as it was about halfway up on a low irregular cliff not over 50 feet high; the ledge was partly overgrown with grass, and the nest was merely a hollow lined with grass.
I had found a duck hawk’s nest with eggs twice previously on Bear Mountain in this same range. This is a steeply sloping mountain of about 1,000 feet altitude, more or less wooded on the slopes and capped by an almost perpendicular cliff of trap rock about 100 feet high. The nest had been located the previous year by my companion, R. P. Stapleton, on a fairly accessible ledge on a steeply sloping part of the cliff; but this year, 1907, the falcons had chosen for their aerie a small ledge, about 6 feet long and 18 inches wide, on the perpendicular part of the cliff, about 70 feet down from the top and 30 feet up from the base, protected from above by overhanging rock and difficult to reach from the only accessible side, as the rock bulged out so far that there was no foothold within 10 feet of the aerie. On May 18, 1907, the nest contained three half incubated eggs, laid in a hollow in the soil about 3 feet from a small gray birch. The following year, on May 16, these falcons had three heavily incubated eggs in the same spot.
The duck hawk breeds at various places in the Appalachian Mountain Chain, at least as far south as Tennessee. Albert F. Ganier (1931) found a nest on a picturesque, lofty crag on the slope of Mount LeConte, in the Great Smoky Mountains, on April 7, 1929; the site, which had probably been in use for years, was quite similar to those described above, “a shelf about 12 feet long and 15 feet below the top, on the vertical side.” On March 30, 1930, he found another nest, 125 miles farther west in the Cumberland Mountains; “this nest was unusual, in that the eggs were laid in an old nest of the red-tailed hawk, built in a recess in the cliff some 90 feet from the bottom and 20 feet from the top.”
Mr. Ganier (1933) also located a pair of duck hawks at Reelfoot Lake, in the northwestern corner of Tennessee, that were probably breeding there; he says: “On April 24, in company with a group of fellow students of bird life, the author identified a pair in the big timber at the upper end of the lake. They were so bold and vociferous in their protests that it was evident an eyrie with young was located in the hollow top of one of the old cypress trees nearby.”
The European peregrine has been recorded as nesting in trees and there are a few such records for this country. Robert Ridgway (1889) writes: “In the spring of 1878, the writer found several pairs nesting in sycamore trees in the neighborhood of Mt. Carmel [Blinois]. Three nests were found in the immediate vicinity of the town. All were placed in cavities in the top of very large sycamore trees, and were inaccessible. One of these trees was felled, however, and measurements with a tape-line showed the nest to have been eighty nine feet from the ground, its location being a shallow cavity, caused by the breaking off of the main limb, the upper part of which projected over sufficiently to form a protection from the sun and rain.”
Col. N. S. Goss (1878) found: in February, 1875, a pair nesting about three miles southeast of Neosho Falls, Kansas, in the timber on the banks of the Neosho River. The nest was in a large sycamore, about fifty feet from the ground, in a trough-like cavity formed by the breaking off of a hollow limb near the body of the tree. I watched the pair closely, with a view of securing both the birds and their eggs. March 27 I became satisfied that the birds were sitting, and I shot the female, but was unable to get near enough to shoot the male. The next morning I hired a young man to climb the tree, who found three fresh eggs, laid on the fine soft rotten wood in a hollow worked out of the same to fit the body. There was no other material or lining, except a few feathers and down mixed with the decayed wood.
Western nests are often in pot-holes or other cavities in sandstone cliffs or high cut-banks. Major Bendire (1892) mentions such a nest, above the falls of the Missouri, that “was situated in a small hollow in a perpendicular wall of rock, some 15 or 20 feet above the base of the wall, and consisted of a few coarse twigs and bits of grass, forming a ridge on the outer side barely sufficient to prevent the eggs from rolling out.” He also writes of a set of eggs taken by Denis Gale from an old eagle’s nest on a rocky cliff on the Cache la Poudre Creek: “The site was in a rocky ledge about 80 feet high and about 50 feet from the foot of the cliff.”
Edwin Beaupre’ (1922) found, in Ontario, a set of this falcon’s eggs in a very unusual location: “They were laid among ferns close to some silver birch saplings on the open ground on the top of a cliff.”
The islands off the coasts of California and Lower California offer ideal nesting sites for duck hawks, where they are free from predatory animals and where they find abundant food among the sea birds. Here their nests are often easily accessible to the collector, in some natural cavity or on some small shelf on a low cliff sometimes only 10 or 20 feet high.
Along the coasts of Labrador and Ungava the duck hawks nest on the islands or on cliffs on the mainland, usually near breeding colonies of gulls, eiders, or other sea birds. A pair had a nest on an island we visited near Nain, in the midst of a large colony of glaucous gulls and black guillemots. Lucien M. Turner says, in his notes from Fort Chirno, that there is scarcely an island near the sea-bird colonies that does not have one or more pairs of these falcons nesting on or near it.
Eggs: The duck hawk lays ordinarily three or four eggs, occasionally five and very rarely six or even seven. In shape they vary from short-ovate or ovate to oval, or even elliptical-oval. The shell is smooth or finely granulated. The eggs are richly and handsomely colored; the ground color varies from creamy white to pale pink, but it is almost always nearly, or wholly, concealed by small blotches, spots, or fine dots of brilliant rich browns or reds, which are sometimes concentrated at one end. The colors most often seen are “Morocco red”, “mahogany red”, “brick red”, “Kaiser brown”, “hazel”, “russet”, or “tawny.” Some light-colored eggs are “pale salmon color”, finely speckled with “Congo pink”, overlaid with a few scattering blotches of “cinnamon-rufous”; rarely one has faint underlying blotches of “pallid purple-drab.” Often there is a solid wash of color at one end, or over the whole egg, with darker markings over it. The measurements of 61 eggs, in the United States National Museum, average 52 by 41 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 57 by 43, 56.5 by 43.5, and 48.5 by 38.5 millimeters.
Young: The period of incubation has been said to be 28 days, but Mr. Hagar has definitely determined that it varies from 33 to 35 days. He says, in his notes: “The two sexes change places rather frequently from the time the first egg is laid until incubation begins, if the weather is cold or stormy; once incubation has started, the female sits very closely for the first two weeks or so, leaving the nest only long enough to receive birds brought in by the male. She is most likely to leave the nest late in the afternoon. The last half of the incubation period the male performs rather more of the incubation, usually taking short turns in mid morning and late afternoon, while the female goes hunting.”
Only one brood is raised in a season, but, if the eggs are taken, the bird will lay a second, or even a third, set after about three weeks. Dr. Charles R. Keyes (1906) reports that a pair in Iowa laid two sets of six eggs each in one season.
Allen and Knight (1913) made a series of observations on a brood of young duck hawks near Cayuga Lake, N. Y. On May 11 the young were apparently about three days old.
During the four hours that the nest was observed, the female brooded, except for two short intervals, when she left for the purpose of securing food. Each time a Rough-winged Swallow was brought in from a colony that had established itself in the gorge below. The young were still weak, and were fed with great care; quite differently from the mad orgies that took place later on, as they grew older. Between ten and fifteen minutes elapsed before either Swallow was consumed. Small bits were torn from it by the parent, and the young permitted to pick them off from the side of her bill. On May 19 the young were still in the down, though much larger. At this time, during the four hours of observation, two more Swallows were brought in; the Hawks seeming to fancy these birds, and pursuing them with evident satisfaction. * * * The nest was not visited again until June 9, when the young seemed nearly ready to leave. Standing at the very edge of the ledge, they flapped their wings in exercise, as though they would like to sail across the gorge to meet their parents, and yet dared not. Their vision had become exceedingly acute, and every passing bird was watched with the keenest interest. They always saw the approaching parents long before the human eye could perceive them, and awaited them with the most intense excitement. They danced about the ledge and uttered the wild screams of their race. It seemed as though at any moment one of them might tumble from the precarious position. To add to the excitement, the parent bird never came directly to the nest, but passed by as if to tantalize her offspring. When she did come to the ledge, a wild fight ensued among the young for the possession of the game, and for a few minutes the proprietorship was undecided. Usually, however, the first one to get a hold managed to draw the prey beneath it, completely covering it and allowing the others no chance whatsoever. On this day, two pigeons were brought in, one by the female and one by the male. * * *
On June 21, but one young remained on the ledge. The others were flying about the gorge, but toward the latter part of the afternoon returned to the nesting ledge, evidently to roost. The first young to leave was now flying about with the ease of the adults, and could be distinguished from his parents only with difficulty. He, likewise, took great interest in the Rough-winged Swallows and frequently pursued them, striking, like his parents, from the side. The previous year the young were watched taking food from the talons of the parents in mid-air. As the adult bird glided up the gorge bearing food, the young flew out to meet it, coming from below and to the side, and struck the prey from its claws even as they were now striking at the live Swallows.
The young bird that remained on the ledge, though frequently exercising its wings, seemed to be fearful of trusting itself to the air, even when clods were tossed down, it lacked the stamina to go. Finally, however, as it perched on the brink and a stone struck too close for comfort, it jumped forth and set its wings. We were uncertain as to whether it could control its unaccustomed wings after leaving the supporting ledge, but to our surprise, when once started, it lost all timidity. Instead of sailing to the creek below, as we thought it might, it circled about the gorge, and, espying the trees in which it had so frequently watched its parents, set its wings in that direction. There it landed safely, sixty feet above the ground, on a large branch close to the trunk, and was welcomed by its parents.
Joseph Dixon (1908) took three small downy young duck hawks from a nest in Alaska on June 16, when the largest one was just getting its eyes open.
If raised them in captivity and weighed them at intervals. On June 19, the smallest one weighed 5~ ounces and the largest 7 ounces. In five days they almost doubled in weight, to 9 and 12 ounces. They weighed 12 and 20 ounces on June 30 and 20 and 25 ounces on July 6. During the next two weeks Their plumage began to develop until, on July 21, the largest was “a beautiful falcon with clean bright plumage and a general clear-cut neat appearance”; they weighed 25 and 26 ounces. On July 23, when about six weeks old, the large one was able to fly. “They were not particular as to their food as long as it was fresh meat, except that they preferred bird bodies to mice.”
Dr. Elon H. Eaton (1910) says that sometimes the young “fall from the nesting-shelf and perish on the rocks below.” He and his companions had watched an eyrie for 24 hours from a concealed station to observe the visits of the parent falcons. Food was brought only once in this time, and the young birds became unusually restless. Finally the male fell over the mountain side and was killed on the talus slope. I believe that the old birds in this case were trying to lure the young from the nest by bringing insufficient food to the ledge. As the young begin to fly the parent birds fly by with prey in their talons, and the young rise to snatch it from them in mid-air as they pass. Thus the fledglings are sometimes left to perish, or in their struggles to obtain the prize meet their destruction. The falcon’s eyrie must needs be a strenuous school to train the fiercest of all raptores for his murderous career.”
From three nests, in which the date of hatching was definitely known by Mr. Hagar, the first young bird flew from the nest on the 33d, 35th, and 33d days, respectively.
Plumages: When first hatched, the young duck hawk is rather sparsely covered with short, creamy-white down; when about 10 or 14 days old, this is replaced or concealed by longer, thicker, coarse down, pale grayish white above and creamy white below. When about three weeks old, the juvenal plumage begins to appear, and this i8 completed during the next two or three weeks; the flight stage is reached at an age of about five weeks. The plumage appears first on the back, scapulars, and head; the wings and tail are sprouting at about the same time. The pectoral tracts are then feathered, and the last of the down is seen on the back, showing through the plumage, on the center of the breast, and finally on the thighs.
In fresh juvenal plumage the crown is mainly “cinnamon-buff” to “cinnamon”, lightly streaked with blackish; the lores, auriculars, and a broad rictal band are brownish black; the upper parts are “bone brown”, broadly edged or tipped, especially on the lesser wing coverts, with “orange-cinnamon”; the under parts are from “Mikado brown” to “light pinkish cinnamon”, fading later to “cream-buff”, broadly streaked, except on the throat, with “bone brown” or “fuscous”; the dark brown tail is banded with broken bars of “cinnamon” and broadly tipped with “light pinkish cinnamon”, fading later to pale buff.
The juvenal plumage is worn for a year or more, with only slight changes by wear and fading; the buffy edgings on the upper parts and the buff tips on the tail fade and wear away; and the under parts fade out to nearly white. The molt into the adult plumage is complete but varies greatly as to time in different individuals and is generally much prolonged; it sometimes begins in spring, when the bird is about a year old, but oftener it occurs during the following summer and fall.
The adult plumage is characterized by the gray upper parts, darkest on the head, where it is nearly black, and lighter gray, banded with darker, on the mantle; the under parts are white, often more or less washed with “pinkish buff” on the belly, sparingly spotted or streaked on the breast and belly and barred on the flanks with black. Adults have one annual complete molt, which is irregular and prolonged, as in the young bird. Signs of molting may be found during almost any month.
There is a tendency toward melanism even in eastern individuals. This is so well marked in some immature birds that they are almost as dark as young pealei. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1905) describe one, taken near Chicago, Illinois, that is “above continuously pure black”, and “beneath ochraceous-white; the neck, breast, and abdomen thickly marked with broad longtitudinal stripes of clear black.” Of an adult, taken in Connecticut, they say: “The upper surface is plumbeous-black, becoming deep black anteriorly, the head without a single light feather in the black portions; the plumbeous bars are distinct only on the rump, upper tail-coverts, and tail, and are just perceptible on the secondaries. The lower parts are of a very deep reddish-ochraceous, deepest on the breast and abdomen, where it approaches a cinnamon tint: the markings, however, as in other examples.”
Food: The duck hawk is primarily a bird killer; nearly all its food consists of birds, ranging in size from mallard ducks down to warblers and nuthatches. The following long list includes many, though probably not all, of the birds that have been recorded in its food: Domestic pigeons and other poultry, grebes, auklets, murrelets, small gulls, terns, petrels, wild ducks from the size of mallards down to teals, small shearwaters, small herons, coots, gallinules, rails, woodcock, snipe, sandpipers, plovers, quail, grouse, ptarmigans, pheasants, sparrow hawks, cuckoos, kingfishers, mourning doves, flickers and other woodpeckers, marsh hawks, whippoorwills, nighthawks, chimney swifts, kingbirds, jays, crows, phoebes, starlings, bobolinks, blackbirds, orioles, grackles, meadowlarks, crossbills, goldfinches, grosbeaks, juncos and other sparrows, purple martins, swallows, tanagers, thrashers, catbirds, warblers, nuthatches, robins, thrushes, and bluebirds. Probably the very largest and the very smallest birds on this list are less often taken than those of intermediate size; pigeons, flickers, jays, meadowlarks, and other birds of similar size probably constitute the bulk of the food in inland localities; on the seacoast and islands, these hawks live almost exclusively on the smaller sea birds.
Dr. Paul L. Errington (1933) writes:
It is plain that domestic pigeon is the Prairie du Sac peregrine’s main staple. Bluejays, flickers, and icterids figure prominently. Next in order might be considered mourning doves, nighthawks, killdeers, and young domestic chickens. I have record of but the one duck (green-winged teal) from the feeding places, although Wisconsin, of course, is not much of a waterfowl state. Mammals do not seem to be brought in at all.
Various authors cite definite instances of ruffed grouse preyed upon by peregrines, hut, while my nests were in excellent ruffed grouse country, I have not found a single trace in bone and feather debris from the Wisconsin falcons. Indeed drumming logs were located within 50 to 150 yards of two of the peregrine nest sites, and I cannot recall a visit at which grouse were not to be flushed. The impunity with which these grouse habitually frequented the vicinity of the peregrine haunts I ascribe to the entirely different habitats and adaptations of the two birds; the falcon’s long pointed wings are ill-designed to whip into the brush in pursuit of a short-winged compact flyer like the ruffed grouse.
* * * Pigeons are spoken of as a nuisance by most of the farmers with whom I am acquainted; the rest of the prey is drawn largely from species that plainly thrive in spite of: or perhaps because of: the predator pressure they have always borne. And the Mourning Doves, swifts, nighthawks, martins and teal one might he pardoned for reckoning legitimate game for an aerial hunter equipped only with natural weapons, however superb.
Mammals form an insignificant part of the duck hawk’s food. Remains of hares, rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, and field mice have been found near their nests, as well as pellets made up of fur and bones of mammals. Even beetles and dragonflies have been found in their stomachs. Audubon (1840) says that they sometimes feed on dead fish; he found the eyes and scales of fishes in their stomachs.
The duck hawk is a clean feeder and a good sportsman. It wants live game and prefers to capture it on the wing. It is the swiftest of our birds of prey and can easily overtake our fastest flying birds. If the bird is not too heavy for it to carry, it dashes along beside or under it, often turning upside down, seizes the bird in its talons, and flies away with it. Larger birds it strikes with such terrific force as to kill its victim instantly, or send it tumbling to the ground, whither it descends to pluck and devour it. I believe that it always plucks its bird, at least partially, before eating it.
Allen and Knight (1913) say that “the Falcons never struck from above, but waited until opposite the victim, when, with a quick semi inversion of the body, they fiercely struck the Swallow from the side. At one time the Hawk was observed to strike from nearly below the victim, so that an almost complete inversion was necessary.” Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1930) saw a female duck hawk strike in flight, kill and carry off for 300 or 400 yards a lesser scaup duck. He also writes, explaining another method of capture: “I was watching a flock of Pectoral Sandpipers in the marsh when a Duck Hawk suddenly appeared and dashed into the startled flock which had jumped and were flying in all directions. The hawk turned, flew back and picked up a bird that it had struck down, and, without alighting, carried it off in its talons. The act of striking was executed with such speed that, although it took place within thirty yards of me, I failed to see it and did not realize what had happened until the falcon checked its impetuous career by banking and returned and picked up its victim.”
Theed Pearse writes to me that he was watching wildfowl at sea near Courtenay, Vancouver Island, “when a bird came out from the shore flying at a great pace, not far above the surface of the water, skimming it; the glasses showed the bird to be a male duck hawk. I never saw a bird fly faster, and I lost sight of the bird for an instant, and the next thing I saw with the glasses was the hawk over the water, where one horned grebe was getting away as fast as possible and another was floating dead, belly up. The live bird did not interest the hawk, which swung around and swooped down, trying to pick up its quarry; it did this half a dozen times; each time it swept around to come at the dead bird up-wind; once it managed to lift the body well out of the water but could not retain it. Unfortunately, I did not see the actual strike by the hawk, but I think the hawk swept along so close to the surface and at such a pace that it struck and killed the grebe before the latter had time to dive, which it would have done had it seen the hawk; it seemed certain therefore that the kill was made on the surface of the water.”
Duck hawks are especially fond of pigeons, living largely on them in some of our large cities in winter. Audubon (1840) says: “For several days I watched one of them that had taken a particular fancy to some tame pigeons, to secure which it went so far as to enter their house at one of the holes, seize a bird, and issue by another hole in an instant, causing such terror among the rest as to render me fearful that they would abandon the place.”
Dr. C. Hart Merriam (1877), referring to a duck hawk shot on an island where terns were breeding, says: “During her brief visit she had made sad havoc among the Terns, and her crop was greatly distended with their remains, which had been swallowed in incredibly large pieces: whole legs, and the long bones of the wings were found entire and unbroken! Indeed she was perfectly gorged, and contained the remains of at least two adult Terns, besides a mass of newly hatched young!” Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1933) thus describes the hunting tactics of the duck hawk on the Bear River marshes, Utah:
The birds at rest perched in low willows, or on logs or bits of drift, where they had clear view of the teeming bird life about them. When hungry, they dashed across the open flats at high speed, striking ruthlessly at any birds that appeared, from small sandpipers to large ducks.
Their appearance in the air was always the signal for chattering cries of alarm from blackbirds and avocets that put all their bird neighbors on the watch. These warnings had little effect, however, as the duck hawk, killing practically at will, was truly despot of this realm.
I have seen this falcon dash through closely massed flocks of flying sandpipers, striking out two or three with as many thrusts of its claws, allowing each bird to drop and then wheeling swiftly to seize the falling prey in mid-air before it reached the ground. Again, I have seen one in a stoop, swift almost as light, knock a redhead duck to the ground, where it landed with a broken wing and other injuries.
Col. Andrew J. Grayson (1872) writes: “On a passage from Mazatlan to San Francisco, in 1858, on the bark Carlota, one of these falcons came to us, more than a hundred miles off the coast of Lower California, and took up his quarters upon the main-yard, or masthead; it remained with us two days, during this time it captured at least a dozen dusky petrels. It was a fine sight to see him dart headlong upon these unsuspecting wanderers of the deep, seldom missing his aim; he would then return to his usual resting place and partly devour his prize. At other times he would let them drop in the sea, after they were dead, seemingly in wanton sport.”
Mr. Hagar kept a record of the bird remains that he found at the vanous aeries visited by him between March 28 and June 29, 1936; there were 22 domestic pigeons, 21 blue jays, 13 flickers, 7 robins, 6 meadowlarks, 3 bluebirds, 2 each of red-winged blackbirds, scarlet tanagers, and starlings, and 1 each of nighthawk, Baltimore oriole, and bronzed grackle.
He gives, in his notes, the following graphic description of the capture of a crow: “At 8.12 there appeared over the top of the mountain, and certainly almost as high again in the air, a strange whirling apparition that I was quite at loss to identify for the moment, whether bird, autogyro, or space ship from Mars: a shifting tangle of flapping wings, tails, necks, and whatnot. At first the progress of this flying apparatus was far from steady, and twice it paused in the air for an appreciable moment, but on the whole it approached over the mountain, and I began to suspect that part of it was the duck hawk. Suddenly there was another short tussle, lasting hardly longer than the twinkling of an eye; and from it emerged two recognizable shapes, a black and very dead crow underneath and to the rear, its head and wings hanging limply, and a very lively duck hawk ahead and on top. With no more effort than he would display to carry a sparrow, with speed diminished not a whit, the falcon winged out over the valley at a level height, banked sharply down wind until he faced the cliff, half-shut his wings to his body, and came down like a thunderbolt: one long, smooth, magnificent swoop that carried him well below his intended perch, then up again with unbelievable speed until he checked himself against the very face of the cliff, tossed his prize on a feeding shelf, and in the same instant lit beside it. For several minutes he stood at the edge, surveying the world with obvious triumph, then turned, took an awkward step or two, and went to work plucking feathers. Almost immediately he stepped up on the crow, and I could see him tearing off great bites from between his feet: now his head was lowered to take a grip, now lie was standing straight up with neck extended, pulling the worm, red flesh with savage gusto: bobbing up and down, feathers flying. For 26 minutes he tore and gulped before finally leaving the shelf.”
He describes the capturing of a pigeon as follows: “The pigeon had been flying level and at top speed; the falcon had been descending slightly, with continuous, strong, rapid wing-beats, and was moving at least twice as fast as the pigeon, so that the gap between them closed with inexorable speed; in the instant before the strike, the falcon had arrived at a point perhaps 12 feet behind the pigeon and a foot below it, when she suddenly changed direction, extended her talons, shot up across the pigeon’s back, and, at the moment of passing, grappled her prey, apparently by the body just behind the wings, so that the two birds swept on as one, without the least perceptible pause. One instant the pigeon was flying desperately; the very next, it hung a limp bundle, with drooping wings and neck, in the talons of its terrible pursuer.~~
Ordinarily, when bringing food to the female, the male flies up to the cliff, carrying the bird in his talons, she flies out to meet him, lie drops the bird, and she catches it in midair in her talons. Mr. Hagar describes two different methods of transferring the prey, as follows: “The male brought a small bird, not larger than sparrow size. As he flew past the cliff, he dexterously transferred it from his feet to his bill: the female came off the nest, flew under the male, giving the feeding call: he dropped the bird and she caught it in her bill before it had fallen three feet: she transferred it to her talons and lit on the dead tree to eat it.”
On another occasion “the male came in from the east with a small bird, circled over the talus slope several times, and finally swooped in almost over the nest shelf, but 10 feet above it, without making a sound. The female came off in a moment, circled up under the male, giving the feeding call, and the bird was transferred from talons to talons.”
Behavior: The flight of the duck hawk is a marvelous exhibition of grace, agility, and speed. Few of its intended victims can escape. It seems to have speed in reserve, for a quick dash over, under, or to one side of its victim before delivering the death blow. Its long, pointed wings whip the air with quick, powerful strokes, giving it the momentum for the final dash on half-closed wings, as it swoops down on its prey with the sound of rushing wind.
About its aerie it flies swiftly, with from two to four or five quick strokes, followed by a longer period of sailing. I have read that it seldom soars, but I have often seen it do so; I have seen it sail, or soar, for a long distance on horizontal wings and spread tail, with little or no wing movement, rising, falling, or turning at will. Sometimes when coming down from a great height, it makes a swift “nose dive” at terrific speed, with wings flexed and primaries pointing straight backward. It is a graceful master of the air at all times.
These falcons often indulge in playful flight for exercise or sport. Delos E. Culver (1919), writing of two that were playing about the tower of the Philadelphia City hall, says: “When first observed they were engaged in aerial evolutions apparently purely for the joy of flying, now rapidly, now slowly, now chasing one another and then a rapid swoop to one of the lower ledges, the leading bird alighting and the other wheeling about the tower or out into mid-air. These evolutions were continued until dusk. * * * Often they were seen to fly directly toward one another with a very rapid flapping of the wings but in a labored manner so that they made very slow progress, and then when almost breast to breast they would turn suddenly and dive down vertically.”
Dr. Wetmore (1933) writes:
When not hungry, the duck hawk, feeling its superior strength, frequently indulges in harmless play at the expense of its bird neighbors.
Often I have seen them flying along the river channels, driving ahead of them a motley flock of blackbirds, herons, avocets, and other birds, herding them in disorder like sheep, but without offering to harm them. Again, as night herons flew ahead of my launch, a duck hawk would dart at then repeatedly, forcing them down lower and lower, until finally, with protesting squawks, they struck the water. They were not allowed to rise, but had to swim into the shelter of the willows to escape.
One pleasant afternoon in fall I heard a great roaring of wings overhead and looked up to see a cormorant that a few minutes before had been soaring peacefully high in air, dashing down with set wings toward the river, with a duck hawk a few feet behind. Just above the water the hawk suddenly accelerated, tapped the cormorant lightly on the back, then circled easily away, while the frightened quarry took refuge unharmed in the water. Frequently falcons at play dashed at top speed through milling flocks of flying sandpipers, scattering them like leaves in the wind, but not striking any of them.
Dr. Winsor M. Tyler tells me that he saw a duck hawk swoop down several times at some feeding hens; the hawk never came nearer than 4 or 5 feet and apparently was not attempting to strike them; the hens did not seem to be much alarmed, except when the hawk was just above them.
Alexander Sprunt, Jr., has sent me some interesting notes on some flight performances of a group of seven of these falcons, as observed by him and his companions on Grandfather Mountain, N. C., about the first of August 1930, from which I quote as follows: “Hardly had we seen the pair when three more appeared above the first two, circling rapidly. To the five already in the air came another and another, until the whole seven were wheeling and swooping about at close range. Then began a series of aerial evolutions that were worth far more than the exertion we had expended in reaching our lofty observation post. Pair after pair of the falcons would come together, whirl apart, and dart away at high speed, one climbing swiftly above the other in the heights. The uppermost bird would then swoop with incredible velocity at the other, and the two seemed to he in close contact for many feet at the termination of the plunge. That the birds were indulging in a sort of play was plainly evident. The wonderful plunges, the apparent contacts, and ultimate separations were entirely devoid of animosity, the falcons seeming to enjoy the performance as thoroughly as their observers.”
William Brewster (1925), referring to the great speed and momentum of the duck hawk’s flight, remarks: “Although this enables him to overtake the fastest-moving birds of other kinds with no less ease than certainty, it often foils his attempts to seize those given to sudden turns or erratic twistings, because he cannot with equal abruptness check or deflect his own headlong career, but must keep straight on for several yards, at least, before doing so, and hence constantly overshoots the mark. His supposed preference for water-fowl, as prey, and reputed prowess in dealing with them, may therefore be due largely to the fact that they are no more capable than he of abruptly devious flight.”
As to the highest speed that this falcon is able to attain, we have very little accurate data. Its utmost speed has been estimated as ranging between 150 and 200 miles an hour; it may attain, or even exceed, such speed in its swift plunges, but no such speed could be maintained for any great distance. D. D. McLean (1930) timed with a stop-watch a bunting duck hawk and estimated its speed as between 165 and 180 miles an hour. The following observation, recorded by Ralph Lawson (1930), was Blade by an expert aviator in whom he had great confidence:
He was flying a small pursuit plane, which had a normal speed of about 125 miles per hour and, while cruising about at a considerable altitude, he saw a bunch of ducks flying far below and ahead of him. Thinking to gain some experience in diving at a moving object, he turned the nose of his plane down and opened the throttle of his engine, thereby gaining speed rapidly. While he was still some distance from the ducks he glanced at the wingtip of his plane to see how much vibration his swoop was causing and as he did so, a hawk shot by him “as though the plane was standing still,” and struck one of the ducks which fell towards the ground apparently lifeless. At the time the hawk passed the plane the latter was travelling at a speed of nearly 175 miles per hour and my friend thinks that the hawk was stooping two feet to his one but of course that is only an estimate as under the conditions no accurate computation was possible. We do know however that this particular hawk was moving at a rate of speed much greater than 175 miles per hour and perhaps not far from double that rate.
Mr. Forbush (1927) cites several instances where a duck hawk has attacked and killed larger birds. A red-shouldered hawk was struck and its skull “split wide open”; another was struck and seen to fall. “Audubon tells of a Snowy Owl which snatched a young duck hawk from its rocky perch, but was followed by the avenging parent, which quickly struck the larger bird dead.”
Mr. Forbush also tells of a duck hawk that struck down a large merganser; when the dead merganser was picked up, it was “found that most of its side had been torn out by the force of the blow or the clutch of those powerful claws.” He says further: “Swifts are believed to be the swiftest of all birds, and it has been generally asserted that the Duck Hawk is unable to overtake them. I have never found the feathers of a swift near a Duck Hawk’s eyrie, but a farmer in the Connecticut Valley states that he saw this falcon capture a Chimney Swift. Many swifts, lie says, were coursing above the fields, when the falcon made several dashes at them, but missed. At last as one turned to evade the rush, the hawk swung over on its back, and reaching up one foot as it shot by, caught the swift in its powerful grasp.”
Although the duck hawk has been known to kill marsh hawks and sparrow hawks, both of these species have attacked and driven away this powerful falcon. I have seen a colony of common terns drive a duck hawk away from their nesting grounds by attacking him en masse. I once saw one of these falcons perched on a spruce tree, with a flock of Brewer’s blackbirds sitting contentedly in the same tree; neither species seemed to be at all concerned about the other. Once a phoebe sat on its nest on a cliff near a falcon’s nest that I was examining; I doubt if it was ever disturbed and it probably raised its brood safely. C. L. Broley has sent me the following note: “A duck hawk was flying high over a field when a small bird quickly mounted up and attacked it as a kingbird does a crow, swooping down in fierce plunges until the duck hawk turned and fled the way it had come, giving us an excellent view of the pugnacious little battler that had so completely turned the tables and put the deadly raptor to flight. It was a sharp-shinned hawk, a slight little fellow scarcely larger than a sparrow hawk! The enraged duck hawk was completely outmaneuvered by the little sharpshin, which mounted above it with the greatest ease time after time and dashed down on its back, apparently delivering blows that were at least irritating, as the duck hawk repeatedly tried to strike sideways at its spunky tormentor.”
Very rarely have duck hawks been known to attack human beings that were disturbing their nests, but G. Bartlett Hendricks (1935) tells of an especially savage female that attacked four different people several times. All these people, while attempting to photograph the young hawks in the nest, were struck repeatedly and severely scratched by the sharp talons of the hawk. “A small boy, who was standing on the summit some distance from the nest, was hit from behind and knocked on his face.” The hawk followed one of the men “a hundred yards or more from the nest and dove at him repeatedly.”
Mr. Hagar had a somewhat similar experience with this same bird, at Monument Mountain, of which he says: “The female was even noisier and more demonstrative than on the day I found this nest, and by the time I was down on a level with the chicks was coming within a foot or two of my head at each plunge.
“This was interesting, so, by way of trying her out, I leaned down and picked up a youngster. Once he was in my hand, my attention was all on him and I forgot the matter for a moment: a short moment; she struck me a stunning blow on the top of the head. I was well wedged between the cliff and a small tree that grows just south of the nest, so that she could not have dislodged me, but my head stung for a minute. I kept my eye on her, as I replaced the chick and withdrew a few feet up the slope, and several times she passed inside of the little tree.~’ He says later, of the same bird: “This bird has struck everyone who has been to the nest since my last visit; ten days ago she attacked Ben Leavitt, apparently with both bill and feet, for she took a jagged bite out of his shoulder, tore the sleeve out of his shirt, and left three long scratches down his upper arm; and early in the week she struck Warden Giddings on the knee, as he stood beside the nest.”
Voice: When I visited the Bear Mountain aerie with R. P. Stapleton, he called a falcon from the cliff by giving a shrill, nasal, squealing call, nyeh, nyeh, nyeh, rapidly uttered in a high key, which he said was an imitation of its note. We also heard a note from the male that sounded like nyee-ee-ee-ee-ee, a long-drawn-out, shrill scream, somewhat suggesting the cry of the broad-winged hawk. While both birds were flying about the cliff, we heard a variety of shrill, whining, nasal notes, suggested by the syllables ‘ivauk-waule, or yaak-yaalc-yaalc, or quack-quaack-queck-quee-quec-quee-quec, the first two or three notes in the last series being somewhat drawn out, with a nasal twang, and the last four or five much more rapidly given and shriller. The note is said to be like that of the sparrow hawk, but louder and more intense, or like that of the kestrel, but stronger and in a deeper key. It also has a hissing menace, like that of the owls; and the notes of the female are said to be hoarser than those of the male.
Mr. Hagar has contributed the following descriptions:
“An observer who knew the duck hawk only on migration would certainly call it a very silent bird, but during the breeding season it is an exceedingly noisy one. The notes are varied and expressive, so that it is frequently possible to know what goes on about the nesting cliff when the falcons are out of sight, yet it will he found that there are only three principal calls, of which all the rest are but variations, “The first of these, which is a note of anger or protest, is a loud, harsh cack-eack-cack-cack-eaele given in bursts of varying length with the most monotonous regularity for minutes on end when intruders are in the neighborhood of the nest. The tone is different in the two sexes, the voice of the male being more wheezy and high-pitched, that of the female grating and coarser. The sound suggests a giant watchman’s rattle twirled rather slowly. In the case of birds that are bold and thoroughly aroused, and therefore plunging close to the visitor, it is very wearing and disagreeable, so that after a few minutes there arises an almost irresistible desire to get away from it. When directed at another hawk, either a visiting peregrine or one of the larger Buteos or eagles, its intensely angry quality is often somewhat amusing.
“The second is a note of courtship and conversation, used when the male is calling his mate to a desirable nest site, or when they are together on a shelf; presumably it is a pleasing sound to duck hawks, however unmusical to human ears. I have usually represented it in my notes by the word wi’-chew, wi’-chew (or wee’chew), with the first syllable lengthened and heavily accented. Occasionally it is as smooth as the similar note of the flicker, although louder; but typically it is rougher and creakier than a grackle’s song, or a very rusty hinge. It is the most variable of the three notes, either persuasive, amorously excited, or talkative, as the occasion requires.
“The third is a recognition or location call given when two birds of a pair are separated; a clear, high slightly ascending, wailing note that falls upon the ear and fades away again so gently that neither beginning nor end can be accurately determined, and yet its middle part has great carrying power. It can be closely imitated by singing ~diit~Ji in the roof of the mouth, with the lips open, at a pitch close to second-octave F on the piano. It is a pleasing sound of itself, and to an habitual watcher at the cliffs becomes more so by association. It and the wichew note are used by both sexes but somewhat more extensively by the male than the female; there is no recognizable difference in tone.”
Field marks: The characteristic falcon flight, the long, pointed wings, and the long tail will distinguish it from all other hawks, except the other falcons, from which it differs in size. If one is near enough, the white throat, the peculiar color pattern of the head, and the large yellow feet are conspicuous, especially in the adult. The adult is much darker colored above than the prairie falcon, especially on the head; the young bird is also somewhat darker; but the two species are about the same size. The head markings will distinguish it from the much larger gyrfalcons.
Fall: The fall flight of duck hawks from their more northern breeding resorts occurs early in October in New England. Referring to the flights at Fishers Island, N. Y., the Fergusons (1922) say: “A few come on the regular flight days, but, like the Pigeon Hawks, they prefer a southwest wind to any other. A strong wind is no hindrance to them, and we have come to feel that a typical Duck Hawk day is one when the wind is blowing from the south-west, with almost a hint of bad weather. * * * The adults come mixed in with the immature birds during the migration, but late in the season adults are still seen after the last of the young have gone by.”
Winter: Most of our northern-breeding duck hawks retire to the Southern States in winter. During the winter that I spent in Pinellas County, Fla., a large female duck hawk frequented the lower sandy islands about Tampa Bay; I occasionally saw it sitting on some little eminence on the islands frequented by terns and various shorebirds. A picked skeleton of a royal tern and the remains of gulls and shorebirds were evidences of its work. It remained all winter until it was shot on March 11. About the Everglades, in southern Florida, we occasionally saw a solitary duck hawk sitting on some tall tree, or flying about where small herons, ibises, and coots were abundant.
But some adults remain as far north as Massachusetts and New York all winter. It is not unusual for one of these falcons to spend the winter in one of our large cities, where it finds an abundant food supply in the large numbers of pigeons that now live in our cities. The Custom House tower in Boston, the tall buildings in New York City, the City Hall tower in Philadelphia, and the Post Office tower in Washington have all been favorite resorts for winter-resident duck hawks. Using the tallest buildings for their lookouts, they make frequent raids on the pigeons, catching them in the air and carrying them to some lofty shelf to pluck and eat them, letting the feathers flutter down into the streets. They furnish considerable entertainment for interested spectators and should be welcome visitors if they keep in check the increasing hordes of pigeons and starlings.
Range: The duck hawk is cosmopolitan in its distribution, the breeding ranges of the northern subspecies being circumpolar and the winter ranges extending south to the Indian Peninsula, Africa, and southern South America, while other races occur in Malaysia and Australia. The typical race, or Old World peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus peregrinus), is doubtfully casual in Greenland (see discussion by Jourdain, p. 42). The following account includes the duck hawk and Peale’s falcon (F. p. pealei), which is confined to the North Pacific coast from the Commandcr and Aleutian Islands south rarely to southern California (San Diego and Pacific Grove).
Breeding range: In North America the breeding range extends north to Alaska (Nome, Colville Rivcr, Camden Bay, Barter Island, and Demarcation Point); Mackenzie (Lockhart River, Melville Mountains, and probably Bernard Harbor); Keewatin (probably Fullerton and Repulse Bay); Franklin (Frozen Strait, Southampton Island, Baffin Island, and Greater Kingwah Fiord); and Greenland (Holsteinborg). East to Greenland (Holsteinborg, Godthaab, Frederikshaab, and Cape Farewell); Labrador (Okkak); Quebec (Wapitagun, Anticosti Island, and Perc~i); southeastern New Brunswick (Grand Manan); Maine (Milltown, Bangor, and Auburn); New Hampshire (probably Monadnock); Massachusetts (Mount Tom and Sheffield); Connecticut (Talcott Mountain, Meriden, and New Haven); New Jersey (Englewood); eastern Pennsylvania (Nockamixon Cliffs, Lehigh Gap, and Chickies); West Virginia (1-larpers Ferry and White Sulphur Springs); Virginia (Great Falls); western North Carolina (Roan Mountain, Black Mountain, and Great Smoky Mountains); and northeastern Alabama (Fort Deposit). South to northern Alabama (Fort Deposit); rarely northern Arkansas (Cleburne County); Kansas (Neosho Falls, Hays, and Ellis); southwestern Texas (Chisos Mountains and Boquillas); Arizona (probably Keams Canyon and Camp Verde); and Baja California (Idlefonso Island and San Roque Island). West to Baja California (San Roque Island, Natividad Island, San Geronimo Island, San Fernando, Todos Santos, and Coronados Islands); California (San Diego, San Clemente Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz, San Mateo County, Alameda, Tomales Point, and Eureka); Oregon (Fort Klamath and Newport); Washington (Quillayute Needles, Carroll Island, Flattery Rocks, and Belliagham); British Columbia (Okanagan, Masset, and Langara Island); and Alaska (Forrester Island, Admiralty Island, Aleutian Islands, Beaver Mountains, Chitina Moraine, and Nome).
Verrill (1905) stated that in 1904 a pair nested on the island of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles. While this is considered doubtful, nevertheless an adult female was collected on May 5, 1928, at Changuinola, Panama (Peters, 1931).
Winter range: In winter the duck hawk ranges north with fair regularity to western Washington (Grays Harbor); southeastern British Columbia (Okanagan); northeastern Texas (Corsicana); Kentucky (Versailles and Lexington); Connecticut (New Haven, Saybrook, Milford, and Stamford); and Massachusetts (Boston). East to Massachusetts (Boston); eastern New York (Fire Island); New Jersey (Princeton and Long Beach); Virginia (Wallops Island); North Carolina (Cape Fear); South Carolina (Oakley Depot and Charleston); Georgia (Blackbeard Island); Florida (Lake lamonia, Kissimmee Prairie, and Whitewater Lake); Bahama Islands (Normans Key and Watling Island); rarely Haiti (Fort Libert~); Puerto Rico (Faro de Cabo Rojo and Cartagena Lagoon); and rarely the Lesser Antilles (Anguilla, Antigua, St. Bartholomew, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Trinidad). South to rarely the Lesser Antilles (Trinidad); rarely Colombia (Bonda); and Panama (Santiago). West to Panama (Santiago); Guatemala (Duenas and probably Ocos); Michoacan (Los Reyes); Jalisco (La Barca and Guadalajara); Nayarit (Tres Marias); Baja California (Cape San Lucas, Santiago, Todos Santos Islands, and Natividad); California (Upland, Clovis, Bodega, and East Park); Oregon (Fort Klamath and Netarts Bay); and Washington (Grays Harbor).
Migration: There appears to be very little regularity in the seasonal movements of this species, as dates of arrival and departure vary greatly in any one locality.
Spring migration: Early dates of spring arrival in regions north of the winter quarters are: Massachusetts: Huntington, February 3; Holyoke, February 22. Verxnont: Woodstock, March 11; South Newbury, April 1. New Hampahire: Monadnock, March 19. Maine: Westbrook, March 14. Quebec: Kamouraska, March 21. Missouri: St. Louis, March 8; Mount Carme], March 17. Indiana: Bicknell, March 9. Ohio: Columbus, March 5; Youngstown, March 8. Michigan: –Grosse Isle, March 9; Silver Lake, March 10; Ann Arbor, March 10. Ontario: London, April 14; Bowmanville, April 16; Ottawa, April 17. Iowa: La Porte City, March 14; Keokuk, March 14. Wisconsin: Burlington, April 7; Lacrosse, April 8. Minnesota: Heron Lake, March 24; Lake City, March 27. Kansas: Onaga, March 23. Nebraska: Lincoln, March 12. North Dakota: Teepee Buttes, March 17. Manitoba: Aweme, April 6; Treesbank, April 16. Colorado: Loveland, March 29. Wyoming: Albany County, April 2. Montana: Big Sandy, March 21; German Gulch, March 23. Alberta: Belvedere, April 18. Yukon: Dawson, May 18. Alaska: Pribiof Islands, March 12 (observed on St. George on January 13, 1917); Beaver Mountains, April 25.
Late dates of spring departure from points south of the breeding range are: Honduras: Swan Island, February 17. Lesser Antilles: St. Croix, March 17; St. Lucia, March 18; Trinidad, April 5. Puerto Rico: Boqueron, April 18; Cartagena Lagoon, April 25. Florida: Daytona Beach, April 28; Tortugas, May 18.
Fall migration: Late dates of fall departure from breeding areas north of the winter range are: Alaska: Icy Cape, September 6; St. Lazaria Island, September 30; Sitka, October 1; near Aleutian Islands, October 7. Yukon: Herschel Island, August 16; Forty-mile, September 15. Alberta: Camrose, October 2. Montana: Rockcreek, October 26. Wyoming: Wheatland, October 15. Colorado: Grand Junction, December 23. Mackenzie: Fort Norman, September 30; Gravel River, October 6. Manitoba: Aweme, October 18; Treesbank, October 23. North Dakota: Argusville, October 20; Charlson, December 2. South Dakota: Arlington, November 15; Sioux Falls, November 18. Nebraska: Page, November 14; Lincoln, December 8. Minnesota: St. Vincent, October 13. Wisconsin: Burlington, November 15. Iowa: Badger Lake, November 4; Keokuk, November 12. Ontario: Toronto, October 20; Point Pelee, October 23; Ottawa, November 11. Michigan: Newberry, October 16; Rockwood, October 29; Locke, November 2. Ohio: Columbus, November 14. Illinois: Evanston, November 13. Missouri: Mount Carmel, November 12. Franklin: Five-hawser Bay, September 8; Baffin Island, September 15; Ashe Inlet, Hudson Strait, September 25. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, October 11. Quebec: Montreal, November 13; Godbout, November 20. Vermont: Rutland, October 1. Massachusetts: West Boylston, November 12; Ipswich, November 12; Danvers, November 16.
Some early dates of fall arrival in the southern part of the winter range are: Florida: Pensacola, August 11; Miami, September 18; Key West, October 1. Puerto Rico: Anegado Lagoon, August 8. Lesser Antilles: St. Bartholomew, November 8; Barbados, November 17.
The banding files of the Biological Survey contain an interesting series of records of duck hawks that have been banded and subsequently recovered. Most of the banding has been done at Woronoco, Russell, and Huntington, Mass., and these birds have been retaken chiefly in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. One banded on September 3, 1932, at Treasure Island, N. J., was killed at McClure, Ill., on September 22, 1932, while another banded at Mohonk Lakes N. Y., on September 18, 1929, was recaptured on September 26, 1929, at Grand Island, Nebr. These are striking examples not only of a curious east-to-west flight., but also of very rapid travel. One banded at Kings Point, Yukon, on July 30, 1924, was shot at Duchesne, Utah, on February 20, 1925.
Casual records: An easy and powerful flier, the duck hawk has been recorded many times outside of what is considered its normal range. One was reported from Port au Port, Newfoundland, in 1911, and there are several records, dating back to 1846, of specimens taken or observed on Bermuda.
Complete data are not available for many of the South American records, but notice may be made of the following countries where the duck hawk has been observed or collected: Dutch Guiana (April 19, 1922, Paramaribo); British Guiana; Brazil (Praia de Cajutuba, Sao Paulo, the Lower Amazon and Caceres in March 1909); Uruguay (Sta. Elena, Flores, and San Jose); Paraguay (Puerto Bertoni); Venezuela (Los Hermanos Islands on January 9, 1909, and Bonaire); Ecuador (Puntilla de Santa Elena, Pichincha, Pomasqui, Cbaupicruz, Carapungo, El Muerto Island, and a specimen from Cocos Island of the Galapagos group, collected on January 26, 1902); Peru (Janin and Chorillos); Chile (San teyas, and Valdivia); and Argentina (Provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and La Rioja, Los Ynglases, and Cape San Antonio and Lomas do Zamora, Buenos Aires Province).
A specimen also has been recorded that was collected about 1887 on Elizabeth Island, in the Straits of Magellan, Patagonia.
Egg dates: Alaska to Ungava: 10 records, May 12 to July 6; 5 records, June 5 to 26, indicating the height of the season.
British Columbia: 9 records, April 13 to May 7.
Alberta and Saskatchewan: 16 records, May 6 to June 13; 8 records, May 19 to June 3.
New York and New England: 20 records, March 29 to May 23; 10 records, April 12 to 26.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania: 9 records, March 29 to May 19.
California: 28 records, March 8 to May 28; 14 records, April 8 to 23.
FALCO PEREGRINUS PEALEI Ridgway
This dark race of the peregrine falcon is none too well understood, as to its subspecific status and its distribution. Considerable doubt has been expressed as to the validity of the name, because the type is an immature bird taken, presumably, in Oregon; it is a dark-colored bird but no darker than some dark specimens from eastern localities. However, this need not necessarily invalidate the name, for the type specimen may well have been, and probably was, a migrant from the range of pealei, as now recognized.
The range, as now revised in the A. 0. U. Check-List (1931), is approximately correct. Maj. Allan Brooks (1926), who has made a study of this group, gives the range of pealei, as follows: “The North Pacific islands between latitude 50 and 55, from the Skeena River mouth (British Columbia) to the Commander Islands (and adjacent coast of Kamchatka?). Probably resident throughout its range.”
He gives the following characters of the race:
It is characterized by a very heavily marked under surface in the adult and l)Possibly greater size than in Fake peregrinns peregrinus and F. peregrinus anatum. The markings in the adult female extend up onto the jugulum in the form of tear drops and bars, not hair lines or narrow lanceolations as in other forms of peregrinus. In the adult male the markings are not so pronounced, hut the whole lower surface is usually dusted with dark gray in addition to the bars. There is very little rufous on the lower surface in either sex. The young are very dark and may or may not have rufous edgings to the feathers of the mantle; they can be matched almost exactly by dark juveniles from the Atlantic coast.
Adults from the Queen Charlotte Islands that I have examined have the upper parts “fuscous” to “hair brown”; the under parts are white, slightly tinged with “cinnamon-buff” on the belly, heavily spotted on the upper breast, and heavily spotted and barred on the belly and flanks with black; the black bars on the flanks are as wide as the white spaces, and nearly so on the tibiae; the dark bars on the tail and its upper coverts are wider than the gray bars. Adults I have seen from the Commander and Aleutian Islands are no darker above, in fact they are somewhat lighter, in color than those from the Queen Charlotte Islands; but the under parts are whiter, less buffy, than in anatum, and they are more extensively spotted and streaked on the upper breast and jugulum. Young birds from the Aleutian Islands are much darker than those I have seen from the Queen Charlottes, and very much darker than the darkest of our eastern birds. Duck hawks from interior and northern Alaska and from the Pacific coast south of latitude 500 N. are clearly referable to anatum, as are also those from Admiralty Island and the Sitkan region.
Nesting: The nesting habits of Peale’s falcon are not essentially different from those of other peregrines. Among the Aleutian Islands m 1911 we saw these falcons on Atka, Kiska, Tanaga, and Adak Islands. At Kiska Harbor, on June 19, I watched a pair flying about some high cliffs; they were apparently building a nest on an inaccessible ledge, as I saw one of them fly up with a stick in its claws. I also saw a pair mating on Atka Island on June 13. They are apparently late breeders in that region. We did not succeed in finding any occupied nests or in securing any specimens of the birds.
We shot one bird, but it fell over a high cliff and could not be found among the piles of loose rocks at the base.
Major Brooks (1926) says:
On the Queen Charlotte Islands the Peale Falcon is probably more abundant than peregrines are anywhere else in the world. On North Island in the breeding season one is never out of hearing of the birds. Sometimes three broods of fledglings can be heard calling from one vantage point, and probably thirty-flve pairs nest on the twenty-five miles of coast-line of this small island alone.
C. deB. Green (1916), referring to other islands in this group, writes:
The birds nearly always choose [for a nesting site] the very top of the cliff under the roots of a spruce-tree growing on the edge: in some eases quite easy of access, sometimes requiring a rope and some help. * * *
Peale’s Falcon, lays, of course, four eggs, like its congener the Duck-Hawk; the eggs are indistinguishable from those of the latter, being red to match the hollow of rotten wood amongst the dehris of trees growing at the top or on the ledges of cliffs, at any elevation above the water-line from 20 to 500 feet. One clutch was found upon a grassy slope dividing a lower cliff from an upper one, but always amongst the roots of a spruce-tree, which gives shelter to the sitting bird in rainy weather. Only one eyrie was found differently situated, and that was on a ledge sheltered by an overhanging rock; the nest had no red rotten wood, and, interesting to note, the eggs were the palest seen.
When the complete clutch is taken, before incubation begins, the bird begins her fresh set close by the first in about ten days, but if incubation has advanced it will be more like three weeks before the new set is laid.
Lucien M. Turner (1886) writes:
This Falcon was frequently observed on Amehitka Island in the month of June, 1881; and on several occasions on Attn Island, during 1880 and 1881. It breeds on nearly all of the islands of the chain, and is a winter resident on the Nearer Group, at least. On Agattu it is reported to be very common; and, on Amchitka I knew of three nests on the ledges of the high bluffs, hanging over the sea. Any approach to the cliffs was heralded by the bird darting from the nest and circling high in the air, screaming fiercely all the while, and any attempt to shoot the birds, while flying over the water, would have resulted in the loss of the specimen, for they always flew in front of the cliffs out of gun-range.
Eggs: The eggs are indistinguishable from those of other peregrines. The measurements of 34 eggs average 53.3 by 41.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 58 by 43, 48.5 by 41, and 52.9 by 39.1 millimeters.
Plumages: A nestling taken on Amnak Island, Alaska, on July 17, is much like the young of anatum, but darker; the upper parts are “fuscous” instead of “bone brown”; the under parts are more heavily marked with “fuscous”, with narrower buff edgings; the head is more extensively “fuseous”, less huffy, tawny, ‘or ocbraeeous than in unalum; and the tail is broadly tipped with “pinkish buff.” Subsequent plumage changes are probably similar to those of other peregrines.
Food: Sea birds and ptarmigans seem to form the main food supply of this falcon in the Aleutian Islands. Mr. Green (1916), referring to the Queen Cliarlottes, writes:
The isolated Falcons at lonely points on the coast were living chiefly upon duck, chickens, and sandpipers, but the congregation of F. p. peeli: thirteen eyries at the north-west corner of the main island and on the rocky shores of Langara Island, just across Parry Passage: were living entirely upon the Ancient Murrelets (Synthliborcmphus onhiquus), which were breeding there in thousands.
Nothing was found at any of the cyries hut remains of Ancient Murrelets, very rarely anything hut the heads, very neatly cut off and always fresh; all other remains were cleared away carefully.
Langara Island is about twenty miles in circumference, and has a pair of Falcons at a distance of every two miles apart; the whole island is a warren of Ancient Murrelets, and there are colonies of other sea-fowl at particular points and on adjacent islets, hut the Ancient Murrelets predominate, and are killed by hundreds by the Falcons and by thousands by Indians, who visit the island from May to August and destroy the birds and eggs simply for food. Something in the flavour evidently pleases both the Falcons and the Indians, for neither of them seems to make war on the other fowl.
Behavior: Mr. Turner (1886) writes:
At Attn Island I frequently saw one of these birds join the Ravens when the latter were performing their aerial gymnastics on the approach of a gale.
The Hawk endeavored to imitate the Ravens, which paid but little attention to the antics of the intruder.
At Attn this Hawk is not common, though the natives assert that it is common enough at Agatto and the Semichi Islands. The natives told me that where this Hawk breeds there will also be found the nests of the Eiders. I could not believe this until a short stay at Amichitka Island forced me to recognize it as a fact, for, in each instance, the nests of Elders were very abundant in each of the localities where the nest of this hawk was known to be. It is quite probable that the hawk selects the place with special reference to prospective young Eiders.
Winter: Peale’s falcon apparently wanders south occasionally in fall or winter. Harry S. Swarth (1933) records a specimen of this race taken at San Diego Bay on March 31, 1908. I have a bird in my collection taken 2 miles south of Colorado Landing, Lower California, on December 30, 1924, which I regard as nearly typical of pealei.
FALCO PEREGRINUS PEREGRINUS Tunstall
CONTRIBUTED BY FRANCIS CHARLES ROBERT JOURDAIN
The European race of this Species is included in the third and fourth editions of the A. 0. U. Check-List on the ground that it is “casual in Greenland.” Herluf Winge (1898) ascribes all Greenland birds, from both west and east coasts, to Falco peregrinus Tunstall var. anatum Bonaparte, i. e., the duck hawk. This was generally accepted until 1926, when 0. Helms published a little work on the birds of Angmagsalik, based on the collections and notes of Johan Petersen. Here he states that the “nomadic Peregrine” has reached Angmagsalik and breeds there, but sparsely and only at intervals of years. He records nests found in 1909, 1912, and 1924 and states that Petersen had birds brought to him, shot from the nest on May 26, 1909, and a male, also shot from the nest on June 11, 1912. These two skins were sent to Denmark, and Helms reports that the 1909 bird proved to be “a mature but not very old bird which, with its unspotted breast, closely resembled the American form, whereas the one shot in 1911 [1912?J was more like the European form.” As all writers are agreed that the West Greenland bird is the duck hawk, this record is the sole evidence for the inclusion of the European bird. It should be noted that this specimen was a breeding bird.
E. Lehn Schioler in his great work, Danmarks Fugle, vol. 3, pp. 399: 405, published posthumously in 1931, who had before him a series of 19 adult males and 16 adult females from Greenland, including specimens of both sexes from Angmagsalik, admits only the American form (F. p. anatum) to the Greenland list. There is scarcely any doubt that the two specimens described by Helms were included in Schi0ler’s survey, although there is a slight discrepancy in the date of the second bird, which is given by helms as 1911 in one place and 1912 in another, while Schi0ler records it as 1914; and, as he had also splendid series of the European bird for comparison, his evidence can be accepted without hesitation. The extreme improbability of two races breeding in the same locality, when the nearest breeding station of one of the two is over 1,000 miles distant, also provides strong corlaboration, and the race should be deleted from the American list.