This is one of Canada’s most well known species at risk, owing to almost 50 years of public attention and conservation efforts.
The Peregrine Falcon is a crow-sized bird with a slate blue back and a cream-coloured chest covered in dark markings. Peregrine Falcons have pointed wings that span about one metre, a narrow tail and adults have a prominent black “moustache.” The dark feathers on the falcon’s head make the bird look like it’s wearing a helmet. Another distinguishing feature of this falcon is its bright yellow feet and legs.
Peregrine Falcons have sharp talons and pointed hooked bills that make them good hunters.
Juvenile peregrines appear darker than the adults. As with most birds of prey, the female is much larger than the male.
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This species is widely distributed, found on every continent, except Antarctica. The historic North American distribution of the eastern subspecies is east of the Rocky Mountains and south of the tree line. Although Peregrine Falcons now nest in and around Toronto and several other southern Ontario cities, the majority of Ontario’s breeding population is found around Lake Superior in northwestern Ontario.
Peregrine Falcons usually nest on tall, steep cliff ledges close to large bodies of water. Although most people associate Peregrine Falcons with rugged wilderness, some of these birds have adapted well to city life. Urban peregrines raise their young on ledges of tall buildings, even in busy downtown areas. Cities offer peregrines a good year-round supply of pigeons and starlings to feed on.
In the 1950s, peregrine numbers began to drop, and by the mid 1960s, the falcon had disappeared from Ontario. Eventually, it was discovered that the pesticide DDT was responsible for the birds’ decline.
The very real possibility of the birds’ extinction caused worldwide concern, and led to major recovery efforts across North America. The Peregrine Falcon came to symbolize the plight of many species threatened by pollution.
Today, the Peregrine Falcon faces many of the same threats facing other species at risk: habitat loss and destruction, disturbance and persecution by people, and environmental contaminants.
The Peregrine Falcon is listed as Special Concern under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. This species is also a Specially Protected Raptor under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. This act prohibits hunting and trapping of the bird, and protects its nests and eggs. Nesting areas of the Peregrine Falcon may be protected as Significant Wildlife Habitat under the Provincial Policy Statement.
Fortunately, DDT and many other harmful pesticides are now banned or restricted in Canada. The Ministry of Natural Resources has prepared a provincial recovery strategy for the Peregrine Falcon. There is also an existing national Peregrine Falcon Recovery Plan. The plan aims to return self-sustaining populations of the bird to their original range.
The Peregrine Falcon is still a species at risk in Ontario and throughout Canada. There are encouraging signs, however, that regulations and recovery efforts are working, and we can look forward to seeing more of these celebrated birds in Ontario.
What You Can Do to Help the Peregrine Falcon
- Learn all you can about the Peregrine Falcon, other raptors and species at risk in Ontario. Visit the Canadian Peregrine Falcon website for a list of webcams featuring Peregrine Falcon nests in Ontario. www.peregrine-foundation.ca/webcams.html
- If you spot a Peregrine Falcon, you can report your sighting to the Natural Heritage Information Centre, which tracks and maintains a database of many of Ontario’s wild species. http://nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca/MNR/nhic/species/species_report.cfm.
- Avoid using pesticides to control pigeons as they may harm the Peregrine Falcons from nearby nests. Use nonlethal methods whenever possible.
- If you are a land owner, and you have peregrines nesting on your property, there are simple steps you can take to minimize disturbance to the birds. There are provincial and federal habitat stewardship programs that may offer assistance. Please contact your local MNR Office for more information. Call toll free: 1-800-667-1940.
- Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
- If you find an injured Peregrine Falcon, contact the MNR to find your nearest district office. Staff can direct you to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Call toll free: 1-800-667-1940
Did you know?
Captive-breeding programs have played a large role in restoring wild peregrine populations throughout Canada. Ontario’s release program was phased out in 2006, as most populations are now stable or increasing.
Did you know?
Young Peregrine Falcons have a high mortality rate. 70% of peregrines don’t make it past their first year. Those that do survive, however, can live up to 15 years.
Did you know?
Young falcons (the group of birds that includes peregrines, kestrels, merlins, and gyrfalcons) are called “eyasses.”