8. Falco peregrinus

No. 8. Falco Peregrinus, Gmel.

The Peregrine.

Of the breeding of this bird in India, little is known. " Mr. Layard," I quote Dr. Jerdon, " mentions the Peregrine as breeding in Ceylon in January, and Dr. Adams says, that he found the nest on a tree on the banks of the Indus, below Ferozpoor, but I imagine," continues Dr. Jerdon, " that in both cases an old Laggar (F. Jugger) has been mistaken for the Bhyri." As to Ceylon, I can offer no opinion, although it is difficult to mistake a Peregrine for a Laggar at any stage, but as regards the Indus, I think Dr. Adams was very likely correct. When marching between Ferozpoor and Mooltan, I saw a trained Peregrine, which the owner assured me, had been taken from a nest on the banks of the Indus near Leia; and I have been informed by an officer well acquainted with our bird, that it breeds on the banks of the Cabool and Swat rivers, close to the Peshawur valley. I have also a nestling bird just able to fly, shot by a native shikaree somewhere in the interior of the Himalayana, not far from Kotegurh; proving that the bird does breed in the Hills. Further observations are necessary. I should say that our birds laid in May, or not earlier than the later part of April, because of a fine pair that I shot early in April at the Sambhur lake; (where there were several,) neither ovaries, nor testicles were at all developed; and the native sportsmen of the place assured me, that they rarely left the lake before the middle of April. The migratory ducks leave earlier, all had left when I was there, but Gulls, Terns and Flamingoes were there in myriads, and these and the Peregrines all leave, I was assured, together; and my informants, though wholly uneducated were good observers, as they pointed out, even on the wing, the difference between Xema Bruneicephala and Ridabunda; both of which, with Chroicocephalus Ichthyaetus, were very plentiful about the lake.

In Europe, they build on rocks and cliffs ; by preference along the sea coast. They form a large nest of sticks, and lay, Yarrel says, four eggs, averaging about two inches in Length, by 1.67 in breadth; mottled all over with pale reddish brown. Those that I have seen, varied nearly as much in depth, and intensity of colouring, as do those of Falco Jugger.

Although I have reasons, as above explained, for believing that some of our birds do breed in the far North-West, and in the Himalayahs, I yet do not doubt that the majority of them go further north. The Peregrine is rather a northern bird, not rare, for instance right up to the north cape, as Old Bushman informs us; and I should guess that many of our birds breed in the neighbourhood of the Caspian Sea.

Captain C. H. T. Marshall says, " Do you know that the Bhyri, about the time of its migration, always sleeps facing the north ? It sits in that direction even during the day time, if possible; but at night, it invariably keeps its head pointing northwards." I cannot say that I place much faith in this native story communicated by my Mend Captain C. Marshall, but I am bound to confess, that the two Peregrines that I shot at Sambhur, in the dusk of the evening, on the trees where they always roosted, certainly were sitting facing the north, although what little wind was blowing came from the south-west.

I have (both in Col. Tytler's museum and elsewhere,) had opportunities of comparing a number of European and Indian specimens, and must add my feeble testimony to Mr. Blyth's dictum, that they are clearly, all referrible, to one, and the same species. I would say more. I cannot agree with Mr. Blyth, that the adults are always distinguishable at a glance. I have before me two adult males, one shot in England, the other near Umballa, which are undistinguishable. I do not find, after comparing a large series, either that the European bird has always more rufous on the lower parts than the Indian, or that the cross bars are always much larger and stronger, or that the breast is more conspicuously spotted : all these points vary in both races, the two latter solely, as I believe, according to age. But the fact I suspect is, that in Europe, Peregrines are rarely allowed to live to any great age, being there continually shot at, and in many places I might almost say, hunted down; while in Asia, except by a few " misguided Europeans," Peregrines are never shot; and though numbers are caught for hawking purposes, they are commonly turned loose again after one, or more years; and thus, while the large majority of European specimens exhibit more or less traces of nonage, a fair proportion of our Indian specimens are of really old birds, in which the whole chin, throat, and upper breast, are spotless white ; the spots on the thigh coverts .reduced to mere triangular dots; the abdomen, with only a few scattered dots here and there; the sides, axillaries, and under-wing coverts, with the markings reduced to narrow arrow-head bars, rarely extending quite to the margins of the webs; and with the lower tail coverts spotless, with only, perhaps here and there, a faint trace of where a bar has been.

In the next younger stage, (and this is that, in which the so-called adult birds appear to be generally shot in England and western Europe,) the chin and throat are spotless, but the whole breast has very narrow, linear, lanceolate, dark, central stripes to the feathers; the abdomen is well marked with pretty large black brown spots; the thigh coverts are barred with narrow transverse bars, far more conspicuous and closer than even in the axillaries of the older stage; while the sides, axillaries, and under-wing coverts are firmly barred with bars, broader and darker than in the older bird, and which moreover, extend quite to the margins of the feathers. The lower tail coverts are all distinctly barred, but the bars are very narrow, and in colour they are greyish brown. In the first described stage moreover, the head and nape are blacker, and the white markings on the inner webs of the primaries, much broader than in the second. From the large number of specimens, obtained in upper India, in stages intermediate between these two, as compared with those exactly answering these descriptions, I conclude that the bird, probably takes a long time, perhaps many years, to pass from one to the other. In the next younger stage, each feather of the breast has an ovato-lanceolate, clove-brown drop near the tip. The feathers of the whole of the abdomen, have large brown subterminal spots, and many of them a broad bar above this. The thigh coverts are far more broadly and decidedly barred, than even in the last described stage, while in the sides, axillaries, and lower wing coverts, (especially the two latter,) the brown bars are as broad as the interspaces, and the lower tail coverts are much more strongly, though not more closely barred, than in the preceding. In both the first described stages, the central tail feathers are slatey blue, tipped white, with a sub-tipping and margin of blackish brown,and bars of the same colour, or traces of them, projecting inwards, towards, but usually not extending quite to, the centre of the feathers; but in the youngest of the three stages, the central tail feathers are deep brown, tipped with rufous, with well-marked transverse grey bars, most conspicuous towards the base. Other younger stages are well known.

I have not above alluded to the difference in the amount of rufous, observable on the lower parts of different individuals. I have come to the conclusion, that this has no necessary connection, with the age of the bird; but varies, according either to season, (in relation to the state of the reproductive organs) or climate, (with reference to temperature and moisture) or food, or perhaps all combined. Certain it is, that, with numerous specimens before one, no rule about the more rufous character of the English bird can be absolutely maintained. Col. Tytler has an undoubted English specimen, with less rufous than any of the numerous Indian ones, that I have seen, and I have in my own collection an old female, shot near Lahore, fully as rufous as any of the six European birds that I have compared it with, and more rufous than any, but one of these. It is said that northern specimens run larger, than those of lower latitudes ; but this too I question, and for facility of comparison, I subjoin exact measurements of a fine, but not old Indian female, which to judge from Yarrell and Old Bushman, cannot fall far short of even Scandinavian examples.

Length, 20.25 inches. Expanse, 39. Wing, 13.25 ; (the second and third primaries equal and longest, 1st 0.25 shorter, 4th 0.73 shorter.) Tail, 6.75 (exterior feathers 0.62 shorter than central feather.) Tarsus, (feathered in front for nearly 1 inch) 2.12. Foot, greatest length 4.62 ; greatest width 2.75; mid toe 2.06, its claw 0.81; hind toe 1.0, its claw 0.94. Bill, straight 1.12; along curve 1.37 ; from gape 1.31; width at gape 1.25 ; height at front at edge of cere 0.5 ; length of cere 0.25.Weight, 1 lb 13 oz.

I also add a full description, as that will show, exactly, the stage of European bird with which it should be compared. Legs and feet, pale yellowish brown. Claws black, outer toe olaw larger than mid, or interior toe claw. Irides deep brown. Bill, pale blue at base of upper mandible, greenish at base of lower mandible, bluish black at both tips; cere, dingy yellowish.

The whole of the top of the head, back of the neck, and a broad patch below the eye, covering almost the whole of the cheek, a very deep slatey blue, almost black on the cheek stripe, the whole of the back of the neck, upper back scapulars, and upper surface of the wings slatey blue, all the feathers obscurely barred with a lighter hue, and many of them tipped and margined somewhat paler; middle and lower back, rump and upper tail coverts, bluish grey, conspicuously barred with broad arrow head bars, of darker, or slatey blue. Tail feathers all conspicuously tipped with white, centre tail feathers, and outer webs of the rest dingy blue, or grey, with from seven to nine broad, transverse, dark slatey blue bars. Inner webs of lateral tail feathers, of a paler ground colour, contrasting more strongly therefore, with the bars, which are similar on both webs, though possibly, somewhat darker on the inner webs. Inner webs of the quills with numerous long oval patches, or incomplete transverse bars, of whiter greyish, or rufous white. Chin, throat, upper breast, and a patch over the terminal half of the ear-coverts, beside or behind the dark ear-patch, white with a buffy, or even pinkish tinge, some few of the feathers having a trace of linear, dark brown, central stripes. Lower breast, and middle of abdomen, still more rufous, each feather having a conspicuous subterminal transverse spot of dark brown, smaller on the upper, larger on the lower feathers. The whole of the lining of the wing, axillaries, sides, flanks, sides and lower part of abdomen, thigh coverts, and lower tail coverts, white, conspicuously barred with dark brown, the bars being most numerous, and marked on the axillaries and sides, and least conspicuous, on the lower tail, and thigh coverts.

Dr. Jerdon, I may here note, informs me, that he cannot help suspecting, that specimens shot on the eastern sea coast, are larger, than those procured in the North West. It would be interesting to obtain accurate measurements in the flesh, of numerous specimens, from both localities.

Tyros continually complain, that they are unable, from Dr. Jerdon's descriptions, to discriminate our various species of Indian falcons; I must confess that I think his descriptions clear enough; but I will note a few points, by which, independent of any detailed description, the five species may be generally distinguished.

First, the Sacer so far exceeds all the others in size, that this alone would be sufficient to identify it. The wings average from 15 to 16 inches,* against 14.0 in F. Jugger, and F. Peregrinus, and 13.0 in Perigrinator and Babylonicus. Then, while the central tail feathers of Peregrinus, Perigrinator, and Babylonicus are all barred, (in different degrees according to age) and those of Jugger are unbarred, those of Sacer, in most of the specimens I have seen, are marked with roundish spots, (more or less broad ovals on the laterals). Then again, the Sacer never has much, and commonly shows scarcely any sign, of a cheek stripe, while in all the others it is well marked. Further, the Peregrine is distinguished at all times from the Jugger, by its huge broad cheek patch, which in the Laggar is at most, about a quarter of an inch broad, and by the entire absence of barring on the centre tail feathers in F. Jugger, which absence equally distinguishes this latter from both Perigrinator and Babylonicus. From Babylonicus, both Perigrinator and Peregrinus differ in the cheek stripe, which is narrow in the former, as in the Jugger, but very broad and strongly marked in the two latter; but Babylonicus, as far as my experience goes, is not of the Jugger type of brown plumage, the old birds becoming slatey, or greenish blue, as do both Perigrinus and Perigrinator, while the oldest Jugger, is never more than slatey brown.

Then as to Perigrinator, and Peregrinus, the comparatively rich rufous colouring at all ages, of the under parts, and the very dark head and nape of the former, (whence, and not as Jerdon says by corruption from Kohi, comes I believe the native name of Koella, " charcoal") at once separate the two species. There are other distinguishing points, which I shall notice hereafter; but these are sufficient, I think, to enable any one to discriminate the five species, at present admitted.

Since the above was written, I have met with the following remarks: As to the specific identity of all the Peregrines, (of the northern Hemisphere at any rate.) in the Ibis for 1868. The writer, Mr. J. H. Gurney is, I believe, unquestionably the first living authority, in regard to raptorial birds.

" I have for many years made a point of examining, as careful┬Čly as I have been able, as many specimens as possible of the Peregrine Falcon, from all parts of both hemispheres, where that widely-spread species occurs, and I have found myself entirely unable to detect, any constant specific difference that may be relied on, between the three supposed species: Falco Peregrinus, F. Anatum, and F. Nigriceps.

In this case, as in that of the Osprey, specimens from the Pacific Coast, (where this Falcon ranges from Vancouver's Island northward, to Chili southward) appear to be of a slightly smaller average size, than those found in the countries of North America, lying towards the Atlantic Ocean; but I cannot think that there is sufficient variation in this respect, to admit of specific separation.

South of Chili, in the southern part of Patagonia, and about the straits of Magellan, a really distinct race does occur, closely allied to F. Melanogenys of Australia, from which indeed, it only differs in its slightly larger size. It is worthy of remark, that the three southern races of Peregrine Falcons, viz. this Magellan race, to which, I believe, no specific name has yet been given, F. Melanogenys of Australia, and F. Minor of South Africa, all agree between themselves, and differ from the true F. Peregrinus in having much narrower spaces, than occur in that bird, between the dark, transverse, abdominal bars, which characterize the adult plumage of all these Falcons.''

Although South Africa has a peculiar race of its own, (the F. Minor mentioned above) the real Peregrine occurs there also, and undoubted specimens of this latter species, have been obtained at Natal, and at the Cape of Good Hope; eastward of India, the true Peregrine occurs in Java, Sumatra, China, and Japan, but only rarely, Mr. "Wallace tells us, in the western islands of the Archipelago.

* These dimensions differ somewhat from Dr. Jerdon's, I am aware he is not likely to be wrong, but this much I can say, that mine are taken from numerous specimens in the flesh, and have all been most carefully recorded.

Dr. Bree figures the Sacer with bars, but gives in his specific characters, "spots white, ovoid and round on the tail." Of more than a dozen specimens that I have, ox have seen, not one had the central feathers barred, all but one, had round, or ovoidal spots on each web of the central feathers. That one, a very young bird, had the central tail feathers, just like Jugger, unspotted and unbarred. Is this really a young Sacer ? I think there is no doubt that our Falcons want re-examining. I allow what I have above written to stand, but I have since had reason to believe, that instead of five true Falcons, we have eight in India, and that it will be necessary, carefully to re-write the discriminative points. I hope all who can, will send me Falcons. Most assuredly, two species are now confounded under Sacer, and two under Perigrinator.

* This may be wrong, and the Shaheen, which becomes blue like a Peregrine, but has a black head, may be entitled to separation as F. Atriceps (nobis) q. v.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
8. Falco peregrinus
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Peregrine Falcon
Falco peregrinus
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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