Expert Peregrine Falcon viewing tips from Alcatraz Biologist Lidia D’amico

Since 2023, National Park Service (NPS) biologists have been monitoring the Peregrine Falcons nesting on Alcatraz. For the first time, you can check out our livestream from the Rock and find out why these magnificent birds, the fastest animal on earth, are such a rare thing to see on the island.

Want to visit Alcatraz to see them for yourself? With input from NPS Biologist on Alcatraz, Lidia D’amico, here are some expert tips for safely viewing the nesting falcons while exploring the island: 

Where can I look for the Peregrine Falcons while visiting Alcatraz? 

The Peregrine Falcon nest isn’t visible from land while on Alcatraz. But there are areas along the island's western edge on West Road up to the steps to the Alcatraz Recreation Yard that are all great spots to see the adults flying near the nest. You can often watch them perform prey (aka baby food) deliveries where one adult passes off food to the other in air to bring to the nest. A favorite perching spot for the adults falcons is on top of the Alcatraz Lighthouse or above the doorway of the admin wing of the Cellhouse near the aptly named Eagle Plaza. 

When is the best time to visit Alcatraz? When will the Peregrine Falcon chicks start flying? 

April through June is the best time to visit Alcatraz. Learn more about tours and tickets via Alcatraz City Cruises

The chicks should be fledging/leaving the nest in late May to early June and will be visible around the island learning how to fly and being fed by the parents. These first flights involve lots of flapping and screeching, all under the watchful eye of the adults.

"It’s the most amazing aerial show," says Alcatraz Biologist Lidia D'amico. 

How can I spot Peregrine Falcons while visiting Alcatraz? 

Peregrine Identification Tips:

  • Size: length 16-20 inches; wingspan 36-44 inches; raven size
  • Key Field Marks: large falcon without dark wing pits; wide dark moustache and helmet; usually dark-tailed (compare to Prairie Falcon)
  • Flight: fast, steady flapping and diving

Peregrine Falcons have a very sleek outline with narrow, pointed wing tips and a long narrow tail with a squared end.  They’re smaller in size than the Western Gulls soaring above the island, and you can usually see them soaring above the flocks of gulls or flying low in stoop along the west side of the island.  Bring binoculars or a telephoto lens to get a better POV. 

What tips do you have to be an ethical birder on Alcatraz?  

It’s always great to adhere to safety signage on the island, especially for closed areas and staying on marked paths, and keeping at least 6 feet of distance from birds on the ground or in trees. Friendly reminder that, according to NPS, no drone flying is allowed on the island, as the birds perceive drones as threats to the nesting colonies and will attack drones. This could cause injury to the birds if they come into contact with a drone.  

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