To start with, in many parts of the UK you could reasonably expect to complete a full set of our breeding falcons – Hobby, Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine. You’ll need to be quick off the mark to get the former, as many will already be well on the way to Africa by the end of September, but some will still be present in the south of the UK well into October. Check gravel pits, lakes and ponds where there are plenty of dragonflies, while roosts and gathering points for House Martins and late Swallows will also attract them. Kestrels are easier – just look for their distinctive dead-still hovering while hunting, often alongside roads, as well as birds looking for food from perches atop streetlights and telegraph poles. Merlins will be on the move from their moorland breeding sites to lowland wintering areas (usually coastal marshes, but some inland fens, too), and can turn up just about anywhere as they do. Their low, dashing hunting flight is sometimes varied with a ‘bouncy’ flight seemingly calculated to look like a thrush’s, and potential prey includes thrushes, chats, and gatherings of small birds such as Sky Larks and Meadow Pipits on stubble fields and similar habitats. Most field guides will tell you that Peregrines also wander at this time of year (their name means ‘wanderer’, in fact), moving to similar areas as are used by Merlins. And indeed many do, particularly those from the species’ traditional upland strongholds. But in recent years, of course, many have established themselves in towns and cities, as well as in lowland quarries, and these often stay put during winter.
The reason why urban and suburban Peregrines remain on their breeding territories all year, you might well think, is the ample supply of food available, especially pigeons. Well, that’s true, but studies in locations such as Derby, Bristol, Bath and Exeter have shown that they also hunt a wide variety of other species, including migrant waders, often taking them as they fly over at night.