The Aleutian Peregrine Falcon

The Aleutian Peregrine Falcon breeds on the Aleutian Islands, which extend from the Alaskan Peninsula (yellow arrow) to Russia’s Commander Islands (red arrow). Aleutian peregrines are part of the Peale’s Peregrine Falcon subspecies (Falco peregrinus pealei).

Map source: Wikipedia.

Peale’s peregrines breed along the Pacific Coast from northern Oregon to Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. Aleutian peregrines may be distinguished from other Peale’s peregrines by darker plumage color, a trait that is especially evident in juveniles (first-year birds).

Some Peale’s Peregrines migrate south for winter, passing through or overwintering on our study area beaches in southwest Washington. This may include Aleutian Peregrines, as some of the peregrines we’ve banded, or just observed without banding, have shown Aleutian plumage characteristics.

Author Brian Wheeler described the adult Peregrine Falcon shown below as “typical plumage on the Aleutian Islands” in his 2003 field guide Raptors of Western North America. In March of 1999 Brian joined me on our study area beaches to take photos of Peale’s falcons for the book he would publish four years later (shown below).

Brian Wheeler photo (another photo of the same falcon shown above).

Authors of the book Peregrine Falcons of the World share that adult Aleutian peregrines “have larger round or teardrop-shaped spots on the upper breast compared with southern pealei and adjacent races. The four peregrines shown below, all of which we captured and banded as adults, clearly show this plumage characteristic.

Banded with visual ID band 7/R on April 6, 1999 on the beach north of Ocean Shores, Washington. Brian Wheeler reviewed this photo and wrote “Unquestionably Peales-Aleutian type.”
Banded with visual ID band 4/C on November 14, 1996 on the beach north of Ocean Shores, Washington. Brian Wheeler reviewed this photo and wrote “Classic Peales-as heavy as an Aleutian specimen.”
Banded with visual ID band V/3 on February 17. 2010 on the beach south of Grayland, Washington. Tom Rowley. photo.
Banded with visual ID band E/5 on October 31, 2010 on the beach at Ocean Shores, Washington. Dan Varland photo.

The plumage of first year Aleutian peregrines is uniformly dark. It’s nicely shown in this black-and-white photo by Clayton White in his 2006 memoir, Peregrine Quest: From a Naturalists Field Notebook.

The caption on this photo from Peregrine Quest reads in part “An immature Peale’s Falcon on Amchitka Island, Aleutians, Augusts 1971,” Steve Sherrod photo.

In 2021 and 2022 Travis Booms and Robin Radcliffe banded a few juvenile Peregrine Falcons during research on the Alaska Peninsula (arrow below). Their study site was in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which is about 100 miles east of the Aleutians. These falcons show the dark plumage characteristic of Aleutian peregrines.

Banding location at Izembec National Wildlife Refuge (yellow arrow).

Two dark-plumaged, Aleutian form Peregrine Falcons banded by Travis Booms and Robin Radcliffe in Izembek NWR.

Travis Booms photo.
Travis Booms photo.

The 2013 book Peregrine Falcons of the World includes a photo of a juvenle Aleutian type Peregrine Falcon that was on our Ocean Shores study area beach.

Rob Palmer photo (another photo of the same falcon shown above).

Since the Washington coast survey and banding program was initiated in 1995, we’ve banded 244 Peregrine Falcons (as of February 27, 2024; for more on the surveys and banding, click here). About 45% of the banded falcons have been resighted at least once afterward. The closest resighting to the Aleutian Islands, and the only one in Alaska, was a resighting of Y6 in Seward, AK (yellow arrow below).

Dan Miller releases a first-year female Peregrine Falcon fitted with visual ID band Y6 on the Long Beach Peninsula on January 7, 2012 (red arrow). John Korvell photo.
Tasha DiMarzio resighted Y6 on May 1, 2013 during a bird survey at the Seward airport. Dan Varland photo. (Note: I was able to take this photo and the video below during a visit to the resighitng location while on vacation in Alaska!)
Listen to Tanya talk about her resighting (Dan Varland video).
We classify Y/6 as a Peales Peregrine, but do consider it an Aleutian Peregrine given the ligher plumage characteristics in comparison to Aleutian Peregrines.

Y6 was banded more than 1,500 miles south of Seward, and Seward is 700 miles east of the Aleutian Islands. While we have no direct evidence that Peregrine Falcons with the Aleutian-type plumage that we’ve encountered on our study area beaches over the years originated in the Aleutian Islands, the resighting of Y6 in Seward, Alaska lends credence to this possibility.

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