Peregrine falcons: The 240mph predators living peacefully alongside us in our church spires

Peregrine falcons are astonishing predators and remarkably adaptable, says Vicky Liddell.

They’re doing very well living alongside man

Peregrines have no natural predators, though egg poaching and pesticides eaten by their prey have hit their numbers in the past. Today, they’re doing well living in towns and cities.

Many churches and cathedrals have peregrine nests — including Norwich, Leicester, Exeter and Worcester — while they’ve also nested successfully everywhere from telecom towers to Southampton Docks. ‘They’re very resilient birds and will adapt to all sorts of unusual locations,’ says Keith Betton of the Hampshire Ornithological Society.

Peregrine falcon chicks in an urban nest in London. Credit: Getty

Peregrine falcon chicks in an urban nest in London. Credit: Getty

They’ve earned their reputation as global travellers

The bird’s scientific name, Falco peregrinus, means wanderer and, over the centuries, they have crossed all the major oceans of the world — the peregrines’ peregrinations, if you like.

They’re fast — almost unbelievably fast

You probably knew that already, but peregrine falcons are among the fastest creatures on the planet. They’ve been clocked at speeds of 240mph when in the midst of a ‘stoop’ — the proper name for their dive-bombing of prey from hundreds of feet above.

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They eat pigeons…

Feral pigeons and collared doves make up a third of a peregrine’s diet. While this might seem a good idea for those sick of seeing our streets cluttered up with pigeons, it was less good news during the Second World War: many peregrines were killed to avoid them intercepting secret messages carried by pigeon.

…but they also have a taste for the tropical

In London, they are also partial to the odd ring- necked parakeet — the bright-green invasive species which you now see everywhere, particularly in the south west of the metropolis.

Peregrine (Falco peregrinus)

The female of the species really is more deadly

A female peregrine (falcon) weighs nearly twice as much as a male (tercel), which allows her to take larger species of prey if required.

They can see for miles

Like most birds of prey, peregrines have truly superb binocular vision — they can spot prey from a distance of nearly two miles.

They’ve inspired great human design

Scientists designing the first jet engine used peregrines’ nostrils as a model to help them control airflow at high speed.