The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Peregrine Biology:
Scientific Classification and Species Names


The Peregrine Falcon belongs to the order falconiformes and is a member of the family falconidae. The scientific name of the Peregrine Falcon is Falco peregrinus. The genus name Falco is the nominative form of the Late or Vulgar Latin word falco, falconis, from which the English falcon and French faucon actually come. The letter l in the English spelling was reintroduced to the word at a time when scholars wanted to be truer to the word's etymology. The English language had borrowed the French word faucon, and some people, in some English dialects, still pronounce the word falcon with no [l] sound. (Compare also the pronunciation of the last name Faulkner, a word that is today otherwise spelled falconer.)

The Latin word falco comes from an older Latin word falx, falcis which means "sickle." It is often assumed that this word came to be applied to the birds because of the shape of their wings in flight, but others believe that it was because of the shape of their talons or beaks.

The species name peregrinus is a Latin word meaning "wandering, foreign, or strange." The first meaning of the word came to dominate the other meanings, and the English language borrowed it twice: in the form peregrine and the form pilgrim. The use of this word for the falcon refers to the Peregrine's habit of not only making long migrations, but also of dispersing widely from their birth site to find nesting territories. The Peregrine has also been given many unofficial common names. These include: great-footed hawk, ledge hawk, stone hawk, rock hawk, bullet hawk, and wandering falcon (a "translation" of its species name).

The Anatum subspecies is designated Falco peregrinus anatum. It is also known as the Continental or American Peregrine. The word anatum was derived from the stems of the Latin words anas, anatis, a noun meaning "duck," and anatinus, an adjective meaning "pertaining to, or of, a duck. The use of this word refers to the falcon's habit of eating ducks - in fact the Peregrine was long known as the Duck Hawk in North America (though research has since shown that ducks do not dominate their diet). The name of the Tundra race, Falco peregrinus tundrius, reflects its habitat. It is also called the Arctic Peregrine. The Peale's Peregrine, Falco peregrinus pealei, was named in honour of Titian R. Peale, a Philadelphia artist and taxidermist in the early nineteenth century.

For other words referring to the Peregrine Falcon, other raptors, and falconry, see our Glossary and Dictionary.


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