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Nebraska’s other Peregrine Falcons

The local resident Peregrine Falcons in Lincoln and Omaha are well-known and even famous, but this time of year there are other Peregrine Falcons in Nebraska.  The additional falcons are migrants passing through between wintering areas well to the south of us and breeding sites in the far north.   I’ve seen a few of these migrants this spring, including one sitting in a soybean field on Monday (1 May) a few miles south of Beatrice in Gage County.  A couple mediocre photos of this bird are below.

Most migrant Peregrine Falcons observed in Nebraska are birds of the tundrius race or subspecies.  Birds belonging to this race breed in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America, including Greenland, and they winter from the southern United States south to central Argentina and Chile.  Although never common, migrant tundrius Peregrine Falcons primarily occur in our state during spring in April and early May.  The also occur, but are less numerous, in fall from approximately September through mid-October.  The best places to encounters these Peregrine Falcons are wetlands where they are often observed hunting shorebirds and small ducks.  I usually see a few each spring (I like to hang out at wetlands and watch shorebirds) and maybe one every other fall.

Tundrius Peregrine Falcons are usually paler than anatum Peregrine Falcons, the subspecies that breed at mid-latitudes, and have a larger area of white between the dark malar (mustache) and nape compared to anatum Peregrine Falcons.    The plumage of some birds found at mid-latitudes can be confounded by the genetic heritage of some re-introductions (not all re-introduced Peregrine Falcons were pure anatum stock), this includes our resident Peregrine Falcons that nest in Nebraska.

So, Peregrine Falcons seen in Nebraska this time of year may not be nesting and they may not be intruders encroaching on existing territories, they may just be passing through.  A Peregrine Falcon that recently showed up on the 10/11 weather camera appears to be a tundrius Peregrine Falcon.  Rusty Dawkins posted a photo of this bird on his Twitter feed.  Recent research  has shown that migrant Peregrine Falcons can may travel more than 100 miles a day each day of their journey.

Good birding!

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About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.

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