Peregrine falcon, side on in flight over the sea with rocks in the background, South Stack, Anglesey.

Peregrine habitat and food

This ubiquitous falcon ranges from tropical forests to semi-desert to high Arctic, and from mountains down to sea level.

Nesting sites

It requires extensive open terrain for hunting. The precise type of surface habitat is less important than availability of suitable prey. 

Suitable nesting sites restrict peregrines to areas where cliff-ledges, quarry faces, crags, or sea-cliffs are available. Recently, they have started to use man-made constructions, especially tall buildings. Tree nesting occurs only rarely in the UK.

Peregrine perched on a rock above a tree on a hillside with landscape in the background.

A peregrines diet

The peregrine feeds primarily on birds, which it catches in flight. It spots the prey at distance and, once positioned correctly, it stoops at speeds of up to 180 kph for the catch. To enable the bird to breathe at this speed, it has special baffles in its nostrils, which control breathing. 

The high-speed stoop means that the peregrine must catch its prey on the wing to avoid injuring itself on impact. Despite its speed and agility, the peregrine is not always successful – many stoops fail to secure prey. Sometimes, if a surprise attack is possible at lower speeds, it snatches prey from a perch or the ground. Little of the kill is wasted - usually all that is left are the intestines and the breastbone with the feathered wings.

Feral pigeons are favourite prey wherever they are freely available, though a wide range of birds are taken, ranging in size from goldcrest to woodpigeon. The larger females take larger prey than males. This generalist diet allows peregrines to exist wherever there are good mixed bird populations. They sometimes take mammals, and there are records of occasional amphibians, lizards and large insects.

Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus, in flight, Manchester city centre