The Peregrine
 Morris's British Birds 1891
 Scanned by
Previous Preview Back to thumbnails Next Preview

Image Title: Peregrine
Description: Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Previous Preview Back to thumbnails Next Preview

Falco peregrinus, LATHAM. FLEMING. Falco communis, LATHAM. SELBY.
Falco—To cut with a bill or hook. Peregrinus—A stranger or foreigner— a traveller from a distant country.

The Peregrine-Falcon has always been highly prized both living and dead, in the former case for its value in. falconry, on account of its lofty flight, great speed, and grandeur of stoop, courageous spirit and docility, combined with confidence and fearlessness, and in the latter for its handsome and fine appearance. It used to be trained for flying at Herons, Partridges, and other large birds, and in the time of King James the First as much as a thousand pounds of our money was once given for a well-trained 'cast' or pair. It comes to a certain extent to know its keeper, and Mr. Knox, in his 'Game Birds and Wildfowl,' gives a curious instance of this.—Two of these birds trained by Colonel Johnson, of the Rifle Brigade, were taken by him on board ship on his voyage across the Atlantic, and were daily allowed to fly. One of them at last was lost, but, it seems, made its way to a schooner also crossing to America, and was detained by the captain, who refused to give it up; but on its being finally arranged that if it showed any knowledge of its former owner he should again have it, it most unmistakeably proved his right to it, as soon as ever the door of the room was opened and it was brought in where he was, flying at once to his shoulder, and showing every sign of affection and delight. It is a bird of first-rate powers of flight, and from its frequent exertion of those powers has derived its name. It has very often been seen crossing the Atlantic at a great distance from land.
The Peregrine is widely distributed, being found throughout the whole of North America, and in parts of South America, even as far south as the Straits of Magellan, and northwards in Greenland; in Africa, at the Cape of Good Hope; in most countries of Europe, particularly in Russia, along the Uralian chain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Lapland; in Siberia and many parts of Asia; and also in New Holland. The rocky cliffs of this country have hitherto afforded it a comparative degree of protection, but 'protection' seems exploded —explosion in fact sounding the knell of the aristocratic Peregrine.
Strange to say these birds have been known to take up a temporary residence on St. Paul's Cathedral, in London, anything but 'far from the busy hum of men,' preying while there on the pigeons which make it their cote, and a Peregrine has been seen to seize one in Leicester Square.
In Yorkshire, the Peregrine has had eyries at Kilnsea Crag and Arncliffe, in Wharfedale, in Craven, as also near Pickering, and on Black Hambleton; so too in the cliffs of the Isle of Wight, in which even now they have four or five eyries, namely, Fresh-water Cliff, Main Bench, Culver Cliff, Shanklin Chine, Black Gang Chine, and Shale Bay, as well as in those of Devonshire and Cornwall, and it still breeds on Newhaven Cliff, and the high cliffs which form Beechy Head, in Sussex. A pair have been in the habit of building there for the last quarter of a century: three young birds were taken from the nest in 1849, and came into possession of Mr. Thomas Thorncroft, of Brighton, who in his letter to me describes them as very docile and noble: such they are indeed described to be by all who have kept them. Another pair built on Salisbury Cathedral in 1879. The Bass Bock in the Frith of Forth has been another of its breeding places; as also the Bass Rock and the cliff on which Tantallon Castle stands; the precipice of Dumbarton Castle; the Isle of May; the Vale of Moffat, in Dumfriesshire; many of the precipitous rocks of Sutherlandshire; Murray Firth, the coast of Gainrie, and the neighbourhood of Banff and St. Abb's Head; the borders of Selkirkshire, Loch Cor, Loch Ruthven, Knockdolian, in Ayrshire, Caithnesshire, Ailsa, Ballantrae, and Portpatrick, in Scotland; and in Shetland it is the most common of the larger rapacious birds. In the Hebrides it is rare—more frequent in the Orkneys; also in Guernsey and Sark. They used to breed at Orme's Head, Llandudno, and Bhiwleden; so too in the Isle of Man.
In Yorkshire, many of these birds have at different periods been shot, some at Nutwell and Flamborough, also one in Home Carr Wood, near Barnsley. One in Brackendale Wood, near Burlington, May 10th., 1856.
Three specimens have been procured in the neighbourhood of Falmouth, of which W. P. Cocks, Esq. has obligingly sent me information; others also. In Sussex, the Peregrine has been occasionally met with inland: sometimes near Petworth, Burton Park, Lewes, Chichester, Arundel, Seaford, Pevensey, Shoreham, and Rye, but seldom on the Weald. In Kent one was shot at Doddington, Mr. Chaffey of that place informed me, in 1849. Two curious instances of the obtaining of the Peregrine are mentioned by A. E. Knox, Esq.: one was caught in a net with which a person was catching sparrows from under the eaves of a barn, and the other was shot by a farmer, after it had dashed at a stuffed wood-pigeon, which he had fixed up in a field as a lure to decoy others within shot. I am informed by my friend, the Rev. R. P. Alington, that it is not uncommon in the spring in the neighbourhood of Swinhope, in Lincolnshire. One was shot near there a few years since by Thomas Harneis, Esq., of Hawerby House. Another at Cleethorpe by Mr. George Johnson, of Melton Ross, and one was shot at Sutton, near Alford, September 16th., 1857. It has also been known on Manton Common. In Bedfordshire one was shot at Ashley wood, near Woburn Abbey, by John White, one of the gamekeepers of His Grace the Duke of Bedford. Others have been met with in Worcestershire—one in 1849: some on Dartmoor, in Devonshire, and one was caught in a trap at Mutley, in 1831. In Derbyshire one was taken on the 25th. of November, 1841, on Melbourne Common. It was caught together with a crow in which it had stuck its talons. It would appear, however, from the account given of it by Mr. J. J. Briggs, to have been a trained bird that had wandered away. One was also shot in the year 1840, near Barrow-upon-Trent; two near Leicester in January, 1879. The Peregrine has been in the constant habit of breeding on Caldy Island on the coast of Pembrokeshire, as I am informed by Edward K. Bridger, Esq.; also near the Great Orme's Head, Llandudno in Carnarvonshire, as also at Holyhead; and near St. Anthony in Cornwall. Pennant has recorded a locality for it on the coast of Carnarvonshire. In the Island of Hearn, Guernsey, three in 1879. In Oxfordshire at Farnborough, Aynhoe, Cropredy, and elsewhere, the last, so far in the year 1875. Of these I have been informed by C. M. Pryor, Esq., of The Avenue, Bedford, to whom I am also indebted for notices of many other rare birds in that County, of which mention will be found in these volumes.
In Ireland it has had, according to William Thompson, Esq., of Belfast, many eyries in the cliffs of the four maritime counties of Ulster, as well as some in other parts; in Antrim no fewer than nine, three of them being inland, Glenariff, Salah Braes, and the Cave-hill. So also at Mc Art's fort, three miles from Belfast, Fairhead and Dunluce Castle, the Horn in Donegal and Knockagh hill near Carrick-fergus, the Gobbins at the northern entrance to Belfast Bay, where two pair built within a mile of each other—a very unusual circumstance; likewise Tory Island, off Donegal, the Mourne Mountains in the county of Down, Bray Head in that of Wicklow, the cliffs over the Killeries in Galway, Bay Lough in Tipperary, the Saltee Islands, Wexford, the Blasquet Islands, Kerry, Ardmore and Dunmore in Waterford, Howth near Dublin, and the sea coast cliffs of the county of Cork. I had a pair alive which came from Rathlin Island, off the north coast of Ireland. They breed annually in Shetland and Orkney, and also occur, but less frequently, in the Hebrides.
Whether the Peregrine is partially migratory in this country, seems at present not to have been ascertained. It appears to be thought that the old birds remain about their haunts, while the young ones, after their expulsion from the nest, are compelled to wander about.
It is a shy species, and difficult to be approached. It retires to roost about sunset, choosing the high branch of a lofty tree, or the pinnacle of a rocky place. ' Sometimes he is seen in the open fields, seated upon a stone, rock, or hillock, where he quietly waits, watching for his prey.' 'He displays both courage and address in frequent contests with his equals.'
Its flight is extremely rapid, and is doubtless well described by Mac-gillivray, as strongly resembling that of the Rock Pigeon. It seldom soars or sails after the manner of the Eagles and Buzzards. It does so, indeed, occasionally, but its usual mode of flying is near the ground with quickly repeated beating of its wings. Montagu has calculated the rate of its flight at as much as some hundred and fifty miles an hour, and Colonel Thornton at about sixty miles. An average of one hundred may I think be fairly estimated. Meyer says that it never strikes at prey near the ground, through an instinctive fear of being dashed to pieces; but the contrary is the fact, its upward sweep preserving it generally from this danger. The recoil, as it were, of the blow which dashes its victim to the earth, overpowers in itself the attraction of gravity, and it rises most gracefully into the air until it has stayed the impetus of its flight. Instances however have been known where both pursuer and pursued have dashed against trees, or even a stone on the ground, in the ardour of pursuing and being pursued, and each has been either stunned for the time, or killed outright by the violence of the blow.
Sometimes, in pursuit of its prey, the Peregrine will ' tower'' upwards until both are lost to sight. In the breeding season also, both birds may now and then be seen soaring and circling over the place chosen for the nest, and at this period they will seize and hold and convey off to their young the prey they have struck, not dashing it to the ground, a quarry not too large being accordingly singled out. They will at times attack even the Eagle. On alighting they often quiver the wings and shake the tail in a peculiar manner, and when standing frequently nod or bow down the head quickly. They are fond of basking, lying down at full length on the ground, and at times resting in a perfectly sitting posture, with the legs flat under them.
The food of the species before us consists principally of birds such as the larger and smaller sea-gulls, auks, guillemots, puffins, larks, pigeons, ptarmigan, rooks, jackdaws, woodcocks, land-rails, wild geese, and even at times the Kestrel, partridges, plovers, grouse, curlews, teal, and ducks; but it also feeds on hares, rabbits, rats, and other small quadrupeds, as well as at times on larger ones, such it is said, though but seldom, as dogs and cats, and also occasionally, it has been stated, on fish. It appears to have an especial 'penchant' for the snipe. The plumage of its feathered game is carefully plucked off before they are eaten. It is said to harass the grey crows, but not to use them for food. Some cases have been known of Peregrines having fallen into the sea, and been drowned, together with birds which they had struck when flying over it: the more remarkable as the prey so seized were only small, and far inferior in size to themselves: probably they had been in some way hampered or clogged,
as a good swimmer may be by a drowning boy, so that although if they had fallen on the land, they might have extricated themselves, yet such opportunity has been lost by their mischance of dropping into the sea, and they have met with a watery grave. It is said that in general they abstain from striking their game over water, in view of such a slip. They are more successful, as might be supposed, in chasing a quarry up the side of a hill or mountain than downwards, the latter case giving the bird of inferior power of flight a comparative advantage. A black grouse, a bird equal to itself in weight, if not heavier, has been found in the nest of one of these Falcons, with which it had probably flown several miles. Sometimes, if it finds a bird which it has struck down too heavy to carry away, it will drop it, and seek another in its stead. It seldom visits the poultry yard. It is said to overpower even the Capercailie. Its clutch is less fatal than its stroke: it has been known to bear away birds for a long distance in its claw, without serious injury.
This bird has frequently been seen to stoop upon and carry off game immediately before sportsmen, both such as had been shot at and killed, and others which were being followed. It takes its prey as well by pursuit, as by a sudden descent upon it. It seldom follows it into cover. Sometimes, for what reason it is impossible to say, it has been known to strike down several birds in succession, so at least I have seen it stated; before securing one for its food. One instance however is recorded where having killed, and being in the act of devouring one bird, it chased and caught another of the same kind, still holding the former in one claw, and securing the latter in the other. The Peregrine has been known to cut a snipe in two, and in like manner to strike off the head of a grouse or pigeon, 'at one fell swoop.' The sound of the buffet may be heard at a considerable distance. It is said that all the Falcons crush and destroy the head of their prey before devouring them. The Peregrine will, as I have already mentioned, occasionally kill and eat the Kestrel, though a bird of its own tribe. In confinement it has been known to do the same, and on one occasion to devour a Merlin, which it had slain. Two instances are recorded also of their killing and eating their partners in captivity. On both occasions the female was the cannibal, but in the latter of the two she died a few days afterwards, from the effects of the wounds she had received from the male in his self-defence. They soon become quite at home in confinement.
It is very curious how these and all the others birds which form the food of the one before us, live in its immediate vicinity, without any apparent fear or dread. They seem patiently to 'bide their time,' and
take their chance of being singled out from their fellows. Perhaps with equal wisdom to that of the followers of the Prophet, they are believers in fatalism, and, content with the knowledge that whatever is, is, and whatever will be, will be, live a life of security, and resign it at the 'fiat' of the Peregrine, as a matter of course. This applies to cases where both are residents together; where however, strange to say, the Peregrine is only a straggling visitor, his presence but for a day or two has the effect of dispersing the flocks of birds which had been peacefully enjoying themselves before his arrival. Its mode of striking its prey has been variously described. It has by many been supposed to stun its victim by the shock of a blow with its breast, and by others it has been known to rip a furrow in its quarry completely from one end of the back to the other, with its talons, not the bill. In the former case it is said to wheel about, and return to pick up the quarry it has struck. It is, as may be supposed, the terror of all it pursues, which, rather than venture again on the wing while it is in the neighbourhood, will suffer themselves to be taken by the hand.
In the pursuit of birds near the sea, the Peregrine frequently loses them by their seeking refuge on the water, where they are safe for the time from his attack. If they leave it for the land, they are again pursued, and most interesting chases of this kind have often been witnessed : they end either in the Hawk catching the bird before it can reach the water, or in its being tired out by its perseverance in thus keeping him at bay. Conscious of the disadvantage it is at on this element, it but very rarely indeed attempts to seize prey when upon it; it has however been known to carry off a razor-bill or guillemot from a flock in the water, and bear it away to its nest. The mention of this bird may introduce the following anecdotes related by Montagu:—'A writer in a popular periodical describes one pursuing a razor-bill, which instead of assaulting as usual with the death-pounce of the beak, (This is a mistake; the quarry is struck with the talons always,) he seized by the head with both his claws, and made towards the land, his prisoner croaking, screaming, and struggling lustily; but being a heavy bird, he so far over-balanced the aggressor, that both descended fast towards the sea, when just as they touched the water, the Falcon let go his hold and ascended, the razor-bill as instantaneously diving below.' A sea-gull has been known to beat a Peregrine in a fair flight, baffling him by its frequent turnings, in the same way that a white butterfly by its zigzag motion escapes a sparrow.
Feeding as the Hawks do, on birds and animals, they have the habit, partaken of likewise by several other genera of birds, of casting up the indigestible part of their food, which in the present case consists of fur and feathers, in small round or oblong pellets.
The note of the Peregrine is loud and shrill, but it is not often heard except in the beginning of the breeding season.
It builds early in the spring. The young are hatched about the first week in May. If one bird is shot, the other is sure to return with a fresh mate, and that without loss of time, generally within the brief space of twenty-four hours. Who can explain the instinct that guides the widower or widow, or trace the hand of the overruling power that supplies the loss? A female bird which had been kept in confinement, has been known to pair with a wild male. She was shot in the act of killing a crow, and the fact was ascertained by a silver ring round her leg, on which the owner's name was engraved. The female while sitting is heedless of the appearance of an enemy, but the male, who is on the look out, gives timely notice of any approach, signifying alarm both by his shrill cry and his hurried flight. They defend their young with much spirit, and when they are first hatched, both birds dash about the nest, in such a case, in manifest dismay, uttering shrieks of anger or distress: at times they sail off to some neighbouring eminence, from whence they descry the violation of their hearth, and again urged by their natural 'storge,' re-approach their eyrie, too often to the destruction of one or both of them. In either case, however, the situation being a good one, and having been instinctively chosen accordingly, is tenanted anew the following spring, by the one bird with a fresh mate, or by a new pair: the same situation is thus resorted to, year after year. In the latter part of autumn, when the young birds' education has been completed, so that they are able to shift and forage for themselves they are expelled by the old ones from the parental domain, as with the homely robin. The young are sometimes fed by the one bird dropping prey from a great height in the air to its partner flying about the nest, by whom it is caught as it falls. It would appear that both birds sit on the eggs.
The nest, which is flat in shape, is generally built on a projection or in a crevice of some rocky cliff, sometimes in Church towers. It is composed of sticks, sea-weed, hair, and other such materials. Sometimes the bird will appropriate the old nest of some other species, and sometimes be satisfied with a mere hollow in the bare rock, with occasionally a little earth in it. It also builds in lofty trees.
A simple but ingenious way of catching the young of these and other Hawks, is mentioned by Charles St. John, Esq., in his entertaining 'Tour in Sutherlandshire.' A cap, or 'bonnet' is lowered
'over the border' of the cliff, down upon the nest; the young birds strike at, and stick their claws into it, and are incontinently hauled up in triumph.
The eggs are two, three, four, or, though but rarely, five in number, and rather inclining to rotundity of form. Their ground colour is light russet red, which is elegantly marbled over with darker shades, spots, patches, and streaks of the same, or freckled with dull crimson, or deep orange brown; sometimes with a tint of purple, or the end is thus marked, the remainder being the ground colour of pale yellowish white. As many as four young have been taken from one nest. When this is the case, one is generally much smaller than the rest. In one instance, however, all four were of equal size; and, moreover, which is still more unusual, and perhaps accounts for the fact just mentioned, all females—a proportion being generally preserved. Incubation lasts three weeks.
The Peregrine varies more in size than perhaps any other bird of prey; sometimes it is nearly equal to the Jer-Falcon. It varies also in colour, but the band on the sides of the throat is a permanent characteristic. Its whole plumage is close and compact; more so than that of any other British species of Hawk. It is a stout and strong-looking bird.
Male, weight, about two pounds; the Eev. Charles Hudson, of Marton Hall, near Burlington, wrote me word of one, perhaps a female, shot at Buckton in April, 1879, which weighed two pounds and a half. Length, from fifteen to eighteen or twenty inches; bill, bluish black at the tip, and pale blue at the base; cere, dull yellowish; iris, dark hazel brown; the feathers between the bill and the eye are of a bristled character; head, bluish black, sometimes greyish black, and at times brownish black; neck, bluish black behind, more or less white in front, in some specimens with, and in others without spots: a dark streak of bluish black from the mouth, often called the moustache, divides it above; chin and throat, white or pale buff colour; breast, also above, white, cream white, or rufous white according to age, the white being the later state, mottled with spots and streaks; below and on the sides, ash grey, lined lengthways, and barred across with dark brown; back, deep bluish grey or slate-colour, shaded off into ash grey, and more or less clearly barred with greyish black: some specimens are darker, and others lighter, according to age, the bars becoming narrower as the bird gets older.
The wings are very long and pointed, extending when closed to from an inch to within nearly half an inch of the end of the tail: the second quill is the longest, and the first nearly as long, the third a little shorter;
greater and lesser wing coverts, bluish grey, barred as the back; primaries and secondaries, dark ash-coloured brown, barred on the inner webs with lighter and darker rufous white spots, and tipped with dull white; tertiaries, ash-colour, faintly barred; greater and lesser under wing coverts, whitish, barred with a dark shade. The tail, slightly rounded, bluish black, or bluish, tinged with yellowish grey, barred with twelve bars of blackish brown, the last the widest, and the others gradually widening towards it; upper tail coverts, bluish black, barred as the back; under tail coverts, ash grey, barred with dark shades; legs, dull yellow, short and strong, feathered more than half-way down, and scaled all round; the scales in front being the largest; toes, dull yellow, very long, strong and scaled, and rough beneath; the second and fourth are nearly equal, the hind one the shortest, the third the longest, and the third and fourth united by a membrane at the base; claws, brownish black or black, strong, hooked, and acute. When perched the birds often sit with the inner toes of each foot crossed the one over the other.
The female is larger by comparison with the male than even is the case with other Hawks. The dark parts of the plumage are darker, and the dark markings larger: I have seen one nearly black in general appearance, they decrease with age. Length, from nineteen to twenty-three inches; cere, dull yellow; iris, dark brown, space surrounding the eyes dull yellow; head, deep greyish brown; neck, in front yellowish white, with longitudinal marks of deep brown, and on the sides and behind greyish brown; the streak on the sides is dark brown; throat, yellowish white, marked longitudinally like the neck; breast, brownish white, or yellowish white, with bars of deep brown or greyish black; it is altogether more inclined to rufous than in the male, with less grey; the longitudinal spots come higher up, and the transverse spots and bars are broader and more boldly marked, and deeper in hue: back, deep brownish grey, or bluish grey, barred less distinctly than in the male with grey.
The wings expand to the width of three feet eight or nine inches, the quill feathers are of a deep greyish brown or brownish black colour, or varying as the back, spotted on the outer webs with ash grey, and on the inner ones with cream-colour; the first quill has a deep indentation near the tip of the inner web; greater and lesser wing coverts, blackish brown, with bars of grey on the outer webs, and spots of reddish white on the inner; secondaries, tipped with whitish; greater and lesser under wings, coverts white, barred with black. The tail has eighteen bars of ash grey and deep brown alternately; those of the latter colour are the broader; the tip is brownish white; the bars on the tail are more distinct than in the, male bird. Upper- tail coverts, bluish grey, barred with greyish black.
The young are at first covered with white down: when fully fledged the bill is dull pale blue, darker at the tip; cere, greenish yellow; iris, dark brown. Forehead and sides of the head, yellowish white, or pale rufous; head on the crown, blackish brown, with a few white feathers at the back; neck, behind, yellowish white with dusky spots; chin, yellowish white; throat, white; the band on the side of it blackish brown; breast, reddish white, or pale reddish orange, darkest in the middle, with longitudinal markings of a dark blackish brown colour, and the centre of each feather the same; back, brownish black shaded with grey, the feathers edged with pale brown or rufous. The quill feathers of the wings are blackish brown, spotted with brownish white on the inner webs, and tipped with the same; tail, blackish or bluish brown, barred and tipped with brownish red, or reddish white, greyish towards the base; legs and toes, greyish or greenish yellow: as the bird advances towards maturity a bluish shade becomes observable on all the upper parts, while the lower parts become more white, and the dark markings smaller, as well as more inclined transversely than longitudinally.
Sir William Jardine describes a variety in a state of change, as having the upper parts of a tint intermediate between yellowish brown and clove brown. The tail, instead of being barred, had an irregular spot on each web of ochraceous where the pale bands should be, and the longitudinal streakings of the lower parts wood brown, instead of the deep ruddy umber brown seen generally in the young.

"Who checks at me to death is dight."

Buy Bird Books from Amazon Here

Home Page  Scanned images Copyright Ash.Midcalf  Email Us