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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus

Species of Concern

Global Rank: G4
State Rank: S3

Agency Status
PIF: 2


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Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
General Description
The Peregrine Falcon has long pointed wings, a dark crown and nape, and a dark wedge extending below the eye. The forehead is pale in immature birds, which are mainly brownish above rather than black or gray as in adults. Arctic birds are relatively pale, and the Peregrine Falcons of the northwest coast of North America are very dark, compared to the intermediate coloration of the subspecies (anatum) that once ranged across North America. They average 41 to 51 cm long and 91 to 112 cm in wingspan.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Smaller and less stocky in appearance than Gyrfalcons. Juvenile Peregrine Falcons are similar in size to Prairie Falcons, but are darker in color and have a heavy dark wedge on the side of the face.

Species Range
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.

Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 1631

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


(direct evidence "B")

(indirect evidence "b")

No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")

(regular observations "W")

(at least one obs. "w")


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Peregrine Falcons arrive in northern breeding areas late April to early May; departure begins late August-early September. In the Bozeman area, observations in the 1950's and 1960's suggested migration periods around May 5 and September 15 (Skaar 1969).

Nests typically are situated on ledges of vertical cliffs, often with a sheltering overhang. Ideal locations include undisturbed areas with a wide view, near water, and close to plentiful prey. Substitute man-made sites can include tall buildings, bridges, rock quarries, and raised platforms.

In fall in the Bozeman area, birds have been seen following flocks of shore birds at the lakes (Skaar 1969).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Peregrine Falcons feed primarily on birds (medium-size passerines up to small waterfowl). They have occasionally been reported to prey on small mammals (e.g., bats, lemmings), lizards, fishes, or insects (by young birds). Prey is pursued from a perch or while soaring. Peregrine Falcons may hunt up to several km from nest sites (Skaggs et al. 1988). In general, much hunting occurs in morning, and to lesser extent toward evening, but may hunt anytime during day. Excess prey is cached, especially during the breeding season.

Great Horned Owl may be a serious nest predator.

Reproductive Characteristics
Nestlings have been reported in Montana from July 10 to 17 (Johnsgard 1986). The nesting period is estimated to be June and July (Davis 1961).

Clutch size averages 4 at mid-latitudes, and 3 in the far north. Incubation lasts 32 to 35 days, and is done mainly by female (the male brings food). Young birds fledge at 39 to 49 days, and gradually become independent. Brood losses are apparently caused mainly by bad weather, and lost clutches are usually replaced at alternate site.

Peregrine falcons first breed typically at 2 to 3 years of age, and occasionally as yearlings. They usually form a lifelong pair bond.

In some parts of Montana, Peregrine Falcons were considered fairly common in summer during the early 1900's (Skaar 1969). Post-war use of pesticides has been the main cause of the decline of these birds (Skaar personal communication).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Davis, C.V. 1961. A distributional study of the birds of Montana. Ph.D. dissertation. Oregon State University, Corvallis. 462 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1986. Birds of the Rocky Mountains: with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Colorado Associated University Press, Boulder, CO.
    • Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
    • Skaggs, R.W., D.H. Ellis, W.G. Hunt, and T.H. Johnson. 1988. Peregrine falcon. In: Glinski et al., eds. Proceedings of Southwest raptor management symposium and workshop. Natural Wildlife Federation Science and Technical Series Number 11. p. 127-136.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pp.
    • Becker, D.M. and Holt, D.W. 1982. A survey of raptor breeding activity and habitat utilization along the Missouri River in North Central Montana with special emphasis on Peregrine and Prairie Falcons.
    • Becker, Dale M., 1980, A Survey of raptors on national forest land in Carter County, Montana. Final Progress Report: 1977-1979.
    • Cade, T. J., et al. editors. 1988. Peregrine falcon populations: their management and recovery. The Peregrine Fund, Inc., Boise, Idaho. 949 pp.
    • Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp.
    • Clark, T. W., H.A. Harvey, R.D. Dorn, D.L. Genter, and C. Groves (eds). 1989. Rare, sensitive, and threatened species of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Montana Natural Heritage Program, The Nature Conservancy, and Mountain West Environmental Services. 153 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. U.S.D.A. For. Serv. N. Region Publ. R1-93-34. Missoula, Mont.
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • Evans, D. L. 1982. Status reports on twelve raptors. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Special Scientific Report No. 238. 68 pp.
    • Flath, D. L. 1976. The peregrine falcon. Montana Outdoors 7(2):31-33.
    • Flath, D. L. 1981. Evaluation of techniques for recovery of peregrine falcons in Montana. Job Prog. Rep., Endangered Species Project SE-l, Job 2. Mont. Dept. Fish, Wildt. and Parks. 3 pp.
    • Flath, D. L. 1982. Evaluation of techniques for recovery of peregrine falcons in Montana. Job Prog. Rep., Endangered Species Project SE-l, Job 2. Mont. Dept. Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. 6 pp.
    • Flath, D. L. 1983. Evaluation of techniques for recovery of peregrine falcons in Montana. Job Prog. Rep., Endangered Species Project SE-1, Job 2. Mont. Dept. Fish, Wildt. and Parks. 5 pp.
    • Follman, Betsy, and Wally Murphy. 1988. Peregrine Falcon nesting habitat inventory and survey report. Deerlodge National Forest. 47pp
    • Grebence, B. L. and C. M. White. 1989. Physiographic characteristics of peregrine falcon nesting habitat along the Colorado River system in Utah. Great Basin Nat. 49:408-418.
    • Hendricks, P., and K. H. Dueholm. 1995. Cliff-nesting raptor survey of the Sioux District, Custer National Forest: 1994. Unpubl. report to U.S.D.A. For. Serv., Custer N.F., Billings. 20 pp.
    • Herman, M., and E. E. Willard. 1978. Peregrine falcon and its habitat. U.S.D.A. Forest Service Northern Region. 11 pp.
    • Hinckley, D., ed. Montana peregrine management book. USDI Bureau of Land Management, Billings.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1990. Hawks, eagles, and falcons of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 403 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Lenard, S.J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana Bird Distribution, 6th Edition. Montana Audubon: Helena, MT, 144 pp.
    • Lockhart, J. Michael, 1976, Effects of coal extraction and related development on wildlife populations. Annual progress report; Calendar year 1976. In Decker Coal Company West Pit Permit. Vol. 3. 26.4.304(10-11), 305, 306, and 307. Updated Rules Rewrite, July 1, 1991. Appendix F.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Olendorff, Richard R., and Robert N. Lehman, USDI Bureau of Land Management., 1986, Raptor collisions with utility lines: An Analysis using subjective field observations. Final Report. February 1986.
    • Porter, R.D., M.A. Jenkins, and A. L. Gaski. 1987. Working bibliography of the peregrine falcon. Natl. Wildl. Fed., Sci. and Tech. Ser. No. 9. 185 pp.
    • Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
    • Snow, C. 1972. Habitat management series for endangered species, Report No. 1: American Peregrine Falcon and Arctic Peregrine Falcon. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Tech. Note: T-N-167. 35 pp.
    • Sumner, J. and R. Rogers. 1999. Montana Peregrine Falcon Survey. prepared for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. 27pp. (plus maps and photos).
    • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service., 1984, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana: Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
    • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service., 1985, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana: Final Environmental Impact Statement.
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1984. American Peregrine Falcon Rocky Mountains/southwest population recovery plan. Prepared in cooperation with the American Peregrine falcon recovery team. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv., Denver. 105 pp.
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1980. Management of Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Draft. REPRINT
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1984. American peregrine falcon recovery plan (Rocky Mtn./southwest population). Prepared in cooperation with American pregrine falcon recovery team. USFWS, Denver, CO.
    • U.S. Forest Service, Kootenai National Forest. Montana Dept. of State Lands., 1978?, Final Environmental Impact Statement. Proposed Plan of Mining and Reclamation. Troy Project, Asarco, Inc., Lincoln County, Montana. Vol. III.
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
    • USDI National Park Service., 2000, Bison Management for the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park. Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Interagency Bison Management Plan for the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park. Vol. I. August 2000.
    • Waage, Bruce C., compiler., 1986, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Rosebud County, Montana: Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report, 1985 Field Season. December 1986.
    • Wenzel, T. 1984. Identification of peregrine falcon nesting habitat. P. 71 .ill A. Dood, comp., Agriculture and Wildlife. Proc. Mont. Chapt., The Wildt. Soc., Butte. 85 pp.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH)., 1993, Wildlife Monitoring Asaloka Mine Area Annual Report, 1992. Montana SMP 85005 R1. OSMP Montana 00078. 1993.
    • White, Clayton M., Nancy J. Clum, Tom J. Cade, and W. Grainger Hunt. 2002. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). Species Account Number 660. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
    • Wright, M. 1985. Prairie falcon and peregrine falcon survey on the Flathead Indian Reservation. University of Montana, Missoula. 81 pp.
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Citation for data on this website:
Peregrine Falcon — Falco peregrinus.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on May 29, 2016, from