Historically widespread in France the Peregrine falcon population numbered about 1000 couples in the 1940’s. This number declined sharply from the 1950’s and it was even threatened with extinction the population dropping to perhaps as few as 150 couples a scenario that was more or less repeated throughout its global range where there was the use of organochlorine pesticides, especially DDT, during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. These substances built up in the birds’ fat tissues, reducing the amount of calcium in their eggshells leading to thinner shells with fewer falcon eggs surviving to hatching. Following the outlawing of these products and the general protection laws for Raptors passed in 1972 the Peregrines numbers started to grow again and gained pace in the 1990’s, (much the same as elsewhere). Today the French population for this bird is in excess of 1,400 couples and overall that's a healthy situation to be in.
The peregrine is a large and powerful falcon. It has long, broad, pointed wings and a relatively short tail. It is blue-grey above, with a blackish top of the head and an obvious black 'moustache' that contrasts with its white face. Its breast is finely spotted.
Behaviour, Habitat and Diet.
One of the fastest species in the world, the peregrine falcon may reach speeds of up to 250 kilometres per hour (155 miles per hour) or more when diving in pursuit of prey. They feed mainly on birds, as well as some mammals, such as bats, rabbits and rodents, and occasionally insects. A wide variety of bird prey is taken, up to the size of ducks and much depends on availability locally when nesting and also seasonally, especially when outside of the breeding season with pigeons and doves frequently being preferred. Prey is usually caught in mid-air, although some may be taken from the ground or from water. They are fast and agile in flight, and typically either chase their prey at great speed to exhaust it or attack it in a steep dive.
This is a bird that requires a relatively specific habitat for a nest site and although they will use old unused large nests in tall trees this is not generally their preferred location and overall when old nests from other birds are used there is an increased chance of failure in bad weather or if the nest structure collapses. By preference a natural site will be a relatively high ledge or rocky outcrop that is usually slightly earthen, perhaps where a small amount of scree has accumulated with some light vegetation. Here they don’t actually make a nest but scrape a small hollow or clearing where the eggs are laid. The nesting period is from April – June with 3 to 5 eggs although there can be a high failure rate with perhaps only one or two chicks surviving. Generally the female incubates and stays with the young while the male provides food. Increasingly large man made structures are used for nesting such as cathedrals, power stations and so on following introduction and sometimes with the addition of nest platforms.
Outside of the breeding season they will often move to lower ground, wetlands, marshes and other areas where prey is abundant.
The map above doesn't totally reflect the complete situation as Peregrines are being introduced in some larger towns, usually in high church structures to assist in the control of town pigeons.
Status, threats and menaces
Although they have made a remarkable comeback there are still incidences of persecution, the use of illegal poisons and egg theft. However the main increasing threat is from greater use of the countryside for recreational pursuits, rock climbing, all terrain cycling, hang gliding and any other activity that could disturb the Peregrine when nesting. As with many species they are extremely sensitive to the smallest of disturbances when nesting in a rural location but can be remarkably resilient to human activity when they adapt to an urban environment.
Length: 38-45 cm Wingspan: 90-105 cm Weight: Males 580-720 g, Females 860-1,090 g