Courtship Flights

Peregrine falcons Stammy and Stellar in Youngstown, Ohio (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

In February and March we see peregrines court at the nest on the falconcams but it’s much more exciting to watch these birds in the air.

In the weeks leading up to egg laying the pair engages in courtship flight.  It’s a spectacular way to get in tune with each other and show off their flying prowess.

Here’s what you’ll see:

SW and Boomer in courtship flight, Cleveland, Ohio (photo by Chad + Chris Saladin)
SW and Boomer flying upside down in courtship flight, Cleveland, Ohio (photo by Chad + Chris Saladin)

The male peregrine begins by circling high above the cliff.  Sometimes he travels in an undulating pattern or a figure eight.  His mate will rise up near him and circle high as well.  Soon they’ll begin to play in the air and may roll upside down or make a big Z in the sky.  Sometimes this playing looks dangerous because one will dive on the other as if he or she were prey — but of course the dive misses.  Sometimes the male pretends to carry food and the pair does a mock prey exchange in the sky.

Back and forth, soaring high and diving low, their flight is breath-taking.  Not only does this activity cement their pair bond but it advertises to any passing peregrine that their nest cliff belongs to them.

Eventually the pair zooms to the cliff and lands near the nest.

If you’re watching the webcam you’ll see them appear on camera at this point … but you’ve missed the big show!


(photos by Chad+Chris Saladin)

8 thoughts on “Courtship Flights

  1. Finally–activity this A.M. at the Gulf Tower. It appears they have dug a place for the eggs. Hoping for another interesting season. If it’s time for watching falcons, spring can’t be far behind!

  2. hi kate.
    i work in belmar,nj. within the past couple of years, a fairly high bridge was completed here. this past summer season, a peregrine took a fancy to the area as there are plenty of pigeons around and one of nj’s largest least tern breeding colonies is in belmar. during november i noticed 2 peregrines sharing a preferred perching spot, the police dispatching antenna at the building where i work. they were obviously a male and a female due to the size differential. i had even spotted them together on the high bridge pilings, house hunting maybe? anyway, what i’m getting to is….i’ve only spotted one recently. i think that it’s the female. the funny thing is that to my eye, she appears to be extra advertising herself or keeping an extra good eye on her environs. i say this because recently i have seen her on the very tippy top of the antenna and at the very edges of the outreaching rungs. i am supposing that her potential mate from the autumn got cold talons though i can’t be sure. maybe he is around. i started wondering how a peregrine establishing a new territory (one never bred on before) would attract a mate. does it just have to hope that someone attractive flys by? does it actively go out and look for suitors? i mean there’s no or singles bars for peregrines! i made myself laugh imagining the profile that a peregrine might create. i hope she finds a mate though i’m sure the least tern families down the street won’t mind if she keeps her single status for another season.

  3. >i started wondering how a peregrine establishing a new territory (one never bred on before) would attract a mate. does it just have to hope that someone attractive flys by? does it actively go out and look for suitors?

    It’s sort of in between. Peregrines are very loyal to their “nest cliff” and will accept any peregrine of the opposite sex that can successfully defend that cliff against others. In the case of new “cliffs,” they pick one and hope it works.

    How to find a mate of you’re a peregrine? If unattached, wait at your nest cliff and periodically circle above it in an “advertising” way so that distant peregrines (if they happen to be out there) will notice. If a peregrine of the opposite sex approaches, knock yourself out showing how well you can fly & that you are unattached. Somehow this works and they’re able to find each other, perhaps because the sexually mature peregrines without a nest cliff wander a lot. They also tend to hang out near where there are other peregrine “cliffs” — just in case a local resident is vulnerable to a takeover.

  4. I have also observed them from the Steelworkers’ building fly around the spires of the PPG tower. They like to land on the very tip of the spire and stand for a minute or so. They try to land on the side of the spire that angles up to the point and of course there is nothing for them to hold onto. Then they actually look like they fall off the spire and tumble in mid air for some time end over end, after a few mid air tumbles they just open their wings and start flying. They did this over and over one day last week and as you say they clearly enjoy this play.

  5. thanks for the input. i’ve been anticipating the possibility of a nesting pair since the summer. hence, the wondering.

    sorry for the misspelling: flies, not flys

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *