For many birdwatchers the Peregrine is one of those great ‘start of the year birds’, an added bonus to a New Year outing to coastal marshes or inland wetlands, where this large and powerful falcon may be seen to strike at waders and smaller wildfowl. For others the Peregrine is a bird of the open uplands, breeding where there are suitable rocky outcrops, or a master of our western sea cliffs, where Puffin and Guillemot feature alongside Feral Pigeon as prey. Regardless of the manner in which the Peregrine enters your birdwatching realm, there is no doubting its place as a totemic species.

Breeding distribution change map (since 1968-72)
(Click to enlarge map)

Changing fortunes

The fortunes of the Peregrine have been much improved since bans on the use of organochlorine pesticides were introduced (DDT was not banned in UK until 1984). Results from Bird Atlas 2007-11 reveal a 40% expansion in the breeding range since 1988-91, with the recolonization of many former breeding territories across northern England, eastern Scotland, south-west Ireland and along England’s southern coast. One feature of this increasing breeding distribution has been the high profile pairs that have become established in urban centres such as Bristol, London, Sheffield and even Norwich. Nest-cameras and Peregrine watch points have brought the antics of these birds to a new and very broad audience.

The story of general recovery that comes through in the Atlas data is not uniform across the country and there is clear evidence that populations in the north-west of Scotland are in decline. The losses of birds from sites on our north-western fringe are thought to be linked to local declines in prey availability, degradation of habitat and, unfortunately, instances of continuing persecution. In some minds, the Peregrine is still regarded as a threat to game-rearing and pigeon-racing interests.

Winter relative abundance map 2007-08 to 2010-11
(Click to enlarge map)

Winter wanderer

Globally, many Peregrine populations exhibit a migratory component and birds from more northerly populations tend to move south in the winter, tracking the availability of prey. Here in Britain and Ireland, established breeders may remain on their territories throughout the year, with non-breeding birds (most Peregrines do not start breeding until they are two or more years of age) and newly independent young being the birds that are on the move. The degree of movement outside of the breeding season by these individuals can be seen in the winter distribution map from Bird Atlas 2007-11, with birds reported from across southern England and well away from known breeding sites. Evidence from bird ringing also reveals the arrival of at least some individuals of Scandinavian origin, which seemingly winter here.

Keeping tabs on Peregrines

Although Bird Atlas 2007-11 provides a very valuable update on the breeding and wintering status of this enigmatic bird of prey, the Peregrine is also subject to periodic and more detailed surveys that collect additional information on territory occupancy, nest locations and habitat associations. The next Peregrine survey is taking place this year and more details will appear on the BTO website during the spring. The species also features on a few dozen Breeding Bird Survey squares each year and information on breeding success is collected through the Nest Record Scheme and local Raptor Study Groups. For summary information visit Birdtrends report

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