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Primarily a hunter of pigeons and jackdaws along the coastal cliffs of Dorset

Photograph by: 
Hamish Murray

Peregrine: the ton-up guy

There can surely be no other bird that evokes more excitement in casual bird watchers than the peregrine (Falco peregrinus). Hardened expert birders need a 'life tick', something brought to our shores by unique circumstances, to get the pulse racing but lead a party of mere mortals along the cliffs at Durlston and watch the sheer delight and anticipation as a peregrine flashes by .Thankfully sightings of a peregrine falcon are no longer as rare as they were when I started 'birding' back in the 1970's when the population level was very low. Sightings may now be more frequent but I would venture to say they are no less thrilling; the peregrine is certainly the "special one"!

In a stoop down towards an unfortunate and unsuspecting pigeon the peregrine reaches astonishing speeds and is known to be the fastest bird in the list of British avifauna. Indeed, it has been estimated that when stooping in perfect conditions they can reach 200mph. How they survive impact with their prey at these sort of speeds is unfathomable and the poor bird they hit certainly will not survive but at least it is a quick end. Even in straight flight they travel at between 40 and 60mph! 

There have been more tweeted sightings of peregrine in 2018 than there were in 2017 (139 against 97) so does this mean the peregrine is becoming more common? A 40% increase in tweets might suggest so but I am not convinced. I suspect we have a stable population rather than increasing one and that there have just been more reports of sightings rather than more birds to report sightings. I hope I am wrong.

You can see a peregrine in Dorset at any time of year and no week goes by without at least one report. However there does seem to be an increase in reports in the autumn, especially in September and October. This increase is not that marked but may possibly be due to young birds fledged from local nests finding their way in the world before being encouraged to move on by their parents. It is possible we witness some degree of autumn/winter movement with more northerly birds being pushed south in harsher conditions. I honestly do not know which of these is the case, may be both are, but I favour the youngsters practicing their flying and hunting skills over the migration theory.

The distribution map shows the majority of reports are from coastal locations and it is well established that peregrines favour coastal cliffs to nest as well as coastal buildings and power pylons! They like a good pigeon for lunch but are pretty keen on waders too; you get more protein for your efforts than attacking smaller prey. There are reports from further inland and these could be younger birds dispersing or possibly incoming migrant birds from further north. Lytchett Bay and Arne in Poole harbour are amongst the most frequently reported sites for peregrine both of which would be good wader hunting territory. Durlston also has a significant number of reports but as a pair are known to nest on the cliffs there that is hardly surprising. 

I would suggest that the cliffs at Durlston in July to September is the most reliable place to see a peregrine either in flight or fairly close by perched on the rocky cliffs. 



Common Name Peregrine
Alternative Name(s) Peregrine Falcon
Scientific Name Falco peregrinus
Species Group Birds Raptors
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

Large fast flight often in free fall as it stoops for prey

Identification Notes
  • Persecuted to near extinction but now seen regularly in Dorset
  • They breed on the Dorset coastal cliffs and also on high buildings in Bournemouth and possibly other towns
  • Strong flyers and once learned you never forget a peregrine in flight
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Raptors