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Academic & Professional Books  Ornithology  Non-Passerines  Birds of Prey

The Peregrine Falcon

By: Richard Sale(Author), Steve Watson(Author)
526 pages, colour & b/w photos, colour & b/w illustrations
A comprehensive book on this most iconic bird of prey, The Peregrine Falcon showcases innovative research and groundbreaking data that is revealing new aspects of their lives.
The Peregrine Falcon
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  • The Peregrine Falcon ISBN: 9780957173262 Hardback Nov 2022 In stock
Price: £49.99
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About this book

This book investigates all aspects of Peregrine Falcon life, from plumage, through diet, breeding and survival. The falcons breed on all continents apart from Antarctica and data has been collected from across that vast range. In addition, modern technology has been used to study the flights which have made the falcon famous as arguable the fastest creature on the planet. Allied to excellent photography the result is a comprehensive book on this most iconic bird.

In the second half of the last century the need to increase food production led to the widescale application of chemicals on farmland. But the chemicals had a disastrous effect on Peregrine Falcons, causing both the breaking of eggshells and the killing of adult birds. Everywhere the chemicals were used the Peregrine population fell sharply: in some areas the falcons were extirpated. Alerted by both amateur and professional rnithologists to an impending catastrophe, governments banned the chemicals. Slowly the Peregrine population began to rise, in part prompted by the bird’s remarkable ability to adapt. In parts of its range the falcon realised that buildings could be utilised as make-shift cliffs for breeding. And where humans congregated, pigeons flourished. That combination of potential breeding sites and high densities of a preferred prey meant an increase in urban living for the resourceful Peregrine, and numbers climbed steadily. The falcons’ arrival in town increased human interest. Nestboxes were provided and video cameras were installed to watch Peregrine family life. Added to its fabulous flying abilities and renowned speed, the falcon that had once been seen only by those who sought it out in remote, wild places, became a star of local CCTV.


1. The Falcons   10
2. The Peregrine Falcon   34
3. Flight Characteristics: Flight, Hunting Techniques and Strategies   92
4. Diet   162
5. Food Consumption and Energy Balance   246
6. Breeding Part 1: Pair Formation to Nest Sites   256
7. Breeding Part 2: Eggs to Fledglings   292
8. Movements and Winter Grounds   364
9. Friends and Foes   394
10. Population: Survival and Population Numbers   416

References   492
Index   526

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Peregrine data well told and succinct
    By Keith 30 Jun 2023 Written for Hardback
    Like most people who dedicate a lot of time to studying nesting Peregrines Falco peregrinus I have treated Derek Ratcliffe’s monograph The Peregrine Falcon (Poyser, 1980 and 1993) as the closest thing I have to the Bible. Apart from being beautifully written, it sets out all that was known about the Peregrine at that time.

    So what would Derek Ratcliffe make of this book? I think he’d be amazed at the amount of information that has been gathered in the last 30 years. The level of scrutiny that our Peregrines are subjected to today is incredible. Not only do we have CCTV, but we have satellite tags and in due course, we’ll have wisely available use of DNA too.

    The book starts with an assessment of the falcons as a group, moving on to a chapter on the Peregrine as a species. This provides a succinct summary of what most readers want to know, but much of it is repeated and expanded on in later chapters. I was particularly interested in the detailed treatment of the various Peregrine races around the world.

    A substantial chapter is devoted to flight characteristics. This aspect is a personal interest of Richard Sale, and for the Peregrine it represents the major part of its hunting strategy. Sale looks at every aspect of how Peregrines are designed to be outstanding predators, but he also manages to pour cold water on one of its main claims to fame. Ask any nature-obsessed child and they will tell you that the Peregrine is the fastest-flying bird. This is based on a series of monitored flights in 1999, when a tame Peregrine was recorded diving at 242 mph having been released from a small plane at 17,000 feet. Sale points out that at such a high altitude the air pressure on the falcon would be much less compared to normal hunting altitudes of a few hundred feet. Peregrines are fast – but at sea level, they are nowhere near as fast.

    A huge chapter of 83 pages discusses diet and how this varies around the world. This is an immense amount of data, but well presented with graphics to back it up. Here we also learn about hunting techniques and how the Peregrine positions itself for a successful attack. There is still much to learn about how Peregrines weigh up the costs and benefits of hunting and we are reminded that a lot of what we already know comes from studies with captive birds.

    There are two chapters on breeding, and most of this information was drawn together by Steve Watson, who in his own right has worked extensively on Peregrines in Gloucestershire. Every aspect of breeding is considered, and I was impressed by how much information has been gleaned from work around the world. I am familiar with much of the UK work and personally monitor 25 nest sites in Hampshire, but here is the data from people doing exactly the same in Europe, North America and parts of Asia.

    Movements are discussed, and while I am used to seeing the occasional Scandinavian Peregrine on my patch I was stunned by the photo of 17 migrating Peregrines perched on a ship moored in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Peregrines are supreme predators but nothing had prepared me for the photo of an Eagle Owl Bubo bubo feeding on a Peregrine corpse! It was a reminder that few species are without their own predators, and that with its superior eyesight, the owl can easily pluck an incubating Peregrine off its nest in the dark. A chapter on population explores the growth of Peregrines around the world in the last 50 years. Here the horrors of eggshell thinning are described along with the subsequent recovery following the withdrawal of certain pesticides.

    In addition to the text, I was really impressed by the number of outstanding colour photographs. Around 200 images from 20 countries show most of the Peregrine races providing an amazing resource. In addition, a bibliography of around 1000 references covers material right up to 2022.

    So what about Ratcliffe … will it still be my Bible? For sure it will be – for its traditional values of fieldwork in the cold and wet after walking miles to view a nest. But when I want to know what’s new in the world of Peregrine research, Sale and Watson will be the book I turn to.
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Richard Sale is a physicist with a PhD in astrophysics, who now devotes his time to studying the three small UK breeding falcons and their flight dynamics. He has written several books on birds. The Gyrfalcon (co-authored with Russian friend Eugene Potapov) won the US Wildlife Society Book of the Year in 2006. More recently he co-authored Steller’s Sea Eagle with Russian colleagues Vladimir Masterov and Michael Romanov: the book won the US Wildlife Society Book of the Year in 2019. In 2021 Sale became the first author to win the Wildlife Society’s book award prize three times with his monograph on The Common Kestrel. His other books include The Snowy Owl (also with Eugene Potapov), the New Naturalist title Falcons, a monograph on Merlin, and The Eurasian Hobby (with Anthony Messenger).

Steve Watson is a retired Chartered Accountant who has always had a passion for raptors but Peregrine Falcons in particular. He is a Trustee of Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group CIO(GRMG) and Raptor Aid CIO and also a committee member of South West Peregrines. He has
conducted a 40-year study of the Symonds Yat, Gloucestershire, England Peregrines, whilst also presenting lectures throughout the UK. He has read widely on the subject, being motivated by an insatiable desire to attain a full understanding of all aspects of this most charismatic of birds.

By: Richard Sale(Author), Steve Watson(Author)
526 pages, colour & b/w photos, colour & b/w illustrations
A comprehensive book on this most iconic bird of prey, The Peregrine Falcon showcases innovative research and groundbreaking data that is revealing new aspects of their lives.
Media reviews

"This is a monumental book about what is regarded as the fastest animal on the planet (or flying over it). At over 500 pages, and amply and attractively illustrated, this is a tribute to and reference source about a marvellous bird. The brilliance of this bird is well captured in many of the photographs but the text is full of information about Peregrines from everywhere in the world where they occur.

Chapters cover falcons in general, an introduction to this species, flight, diet, breeding behaviours and characteristics, movements, friends and foes and population numbers and trends. It feels like an encyclopedic coverage and the book is packed with information, but information delivered in a very palatable form.

I am a fan of this species but I can’t say I want to know everything about it – although if the time comes when I do, I’ll know to look here – but the book is a good read. As a biologist, rather than as a raptor fan, I enjoyed reading the account of sexual dimorphism in size of this species (and many other raptors, but not a great many other species of bird) and found the explanation of competing explanations for the phenomenon to be very good.

I’ve often seen figures for percentage success of attacks on prey for this species, and for other raptors, and, even in my experience of the birds in the field, have wondered quite how observers decide what is a serious attempt at a kill and what amounts to a test or just larking about. I remember watching a Peregrine on Speyside, something like 50 years ago, chasing a Swift around and it looked like it was playing. Now, whether or not it could really have been described in that way, it would have been questionable as to how many, if any, attempts were real ones.

The chapter on friends and foes was very interesting, and covers the species’s interactions with other birds and mammals, some of which is fascinating. Ten pages in the Population chapter are devoted to human persecution of Peregrines in the UK, much of it on areas managed for grouse shooting. I was unaware of the 2011 paper by McMillan in Scottish Birds and I am now very keen to read it. But the discussion ranges widely over the studies and, no surprise here, comes firmly to the view that deliberate and systematic illegal killing of protected wildlife is rife on grouse moors.

This is a phenomenal piece of work, from which 10% of the sales income will be donated to Raptor Aid.

The cover? Interesting choice – I’d give it 7/10."

– Mark Avery

"Like me, you may be a devotee of Derek Ratcliffe’s ground-breaking The Peregrine Falcon, Poyser, 1980 and 1993 (2nd ed). Trust me, however. If you’re in at all interested in the world’s most successful avian predator, you’ll need this astonishing work. Even Derek would have wanted it. It is the most beautifully illustrated, last word on the beast.

There is barely a feather’s weight of peregrine information that has been left out. The text on the diet alone, which is possibly among the widest in any raptor, runs to 80 pages. Of special note is the way that the authors take to task all the many exaggerated claims about peregrine speed. Their reassessment is a model of meticulous exposition.

Yet the thing I love most is the way the hard science, undergirded by the clearest and boldest sets of graphics or pie-charts I’ve ever seen, works in conjunction with the photographs to create an integrated, informational and aesthetic whole. It is truly magnificent. The images, in fact – 150 in total, packed with all sort of insights and details in their own right – are worth the cover price by themselves.

Instantly it upgrades peregrine scholarship. It will be consulted for decades. It has a bibliography that runs to 32 close-typed pages and I was rather excited to find myself in its list. Not for anything I might have said in the 700,00 words of Birds Britannica or Birds and People. But because in 2007 and long forgotten by its author – but grist to the mill for these peregrine afficionados – I wrote a one-page note on a hunting bird assailed by cheeky crows. Of course, they wouldn’t miss it. And so fame at last!"

– Mark Cocker

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