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Peregrine (Peregrine Falcon)

Falco peregrinus

UK ConservationIrish ConservationStable populationSmileSmile

Distribution Britain 1,048 (+104%) Ireland 290 (+166%)
Numbers breeding: Britain 1,185 Ireland 365
European status: 5,800 (27% in Britain and Ireland =2)
British population trend: more than ever and in new areas
How likely are you to record it? 60 squares (1.3%) Ranked 110 [71=]

Who would have thought, 40 years ago, that there would be record numbers of Peregrines breeding in Britain. These magnificent birds were virtually farmed in some areas, to provide birds for falconry for several centuries. However they began to be persecuted, particularly on grouse moors, in the 19th century but seemed to have a relatively stable population. Emergency legislation turned everyone against them during the Second World War — they might intercept homing pigeons used for emergency messages. Over 600 were killed and many nests destroyed with a result that the English (worst affected) population was reduced by over 50%. After the war the birds gradually recovered, probably to the pre-war level, in ten years. Then the organo-chlorine chemicals were introduced into agricultural use. Peregrine numbers started falling and breeding failures were reported. At the same time racing pigeon fanciers complained about the losses of their birds and the first census was carried out by the BTO in 1961-62. Numbers were down to half the pre-war population! The chemicals were withdrawn and eventually banned and the sample surveys indicated that Peregrines were in their worst state in 1963 with 44% of the pre-war population and only 16% breeding successfully. Further censuses, both in Britain and Ireland, indicated the numbers were made up by 1980 in most areas. Numbers and breeding performance in areas where the major part of the diet was seabirds were not good but elsewhere many traditional territories now held two or three pairs. The estimate for 1991 was over 1,500 — a third up on pre-war figures. Apart from a few on church spires, well over 100 years ago, lowland areas did not have breeding Peregrines but this is now changing with breeding increasingly being reported on pylons, cooling towers, warehouses and even blocks of high rise flats. The pigeons in Trafalgar Square need to watch out as at least one pair nested in London in 1998! Is 2,000 pairs the limit?

Crick, H.Q.P. & Ratcliffe, D.A. 1995 Bird Study: 42, 1-19.
Moore, N.P. et al. 1997 Bird Study: 44, 176-181.
Norriss, D.W. 1995 Bird Study: 42, 20-30.
Ridpath, S.M. & Thirgood, S.J. 1997 Birds of prey and red grouse. London: Stationery Office.

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From The State of the Nations Birds
Copyright © 2000 by Chris Mead

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