Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

Falco mexicanus
L 15-19" / WS 35-45"

Prairie Falcons are solitary birds of western open country, nesting in cavities on cliffs along rocky canyons, buttes, and outcrops. During winter, they are more widely spread across the West, even in suburban areas with ample open space. Unlike the similar Peregrine Falcon, Prairie hunts primarily ground squirrels during summer, which are captured through low, surprise attack flight, as well as by perch hunting. In certain areas, Prairie Falcons eat birds such as meadowlarks, Horned Larks, and pipits equally as often or more so as small mammals. Throughout winter, Prairie Falcons catch their own food, but also steal food from Harriers, Rough-leggeds, and other raptors.

Prairie Falcons are relatively uncommon throughout the West and northern Mexico and rare to exceptionally rare in the East. A few birds make it to the Great Lakes region during fall and winter every few years, but it is generally a rarity anywhere east of the Great Plains. Prairie is lesser revered than Peregrine, but it is nearly as impressive in flight, and is more than capable of super high-speed stoops and aggressive nest defenses. Their call is very similar to Peregrine's, but a slightly higher pitched "kak-kak-kak-kak..." Females are larger than males.

Shape

  • Perched, appear large and broad-shouldered just like Peregrine, but often bob head up and down like Kestrel.
  • Long, narrow, pointed wings, and a fairly long tail that tapers at the tip.
  • Slightly slimmer overall than Peregrines, somewhat more Kestrel-like, but wings, tail, chest, and head are still broad like Peregrine.

Flight

  • Steady and agile in flight.
  • Peregrine-like wing beats, but slightly stiffer and shallower.
  • Soar and glide on flat or slightly bowed wings.
  • On occasion, hover while hunting, but never for extended period like Kestrel.

Plumage

  • Overall sandy brown above and whitish below, with blackish underwing linings and wing pits. Head shows whitish supercilium, pale cheek, and narrow black malar. Juvenile has bluish cere, eye-ring, and legs, changing to yellow during first spring or summer. Tail is brown with faint pale bands.
  • Adult is lightly spotted below, and upperwing coverts are faintly barred. Males more lightly marked below on average. The tail of adult is often paler than the upperwings, showing a slight contrast on top.
  • Juvenile slightly darker on top than adult, especially in fresh fall plumage, upperwing coverts pale fringed. Underside buffy with dark streaks, buff fades to whitish by first fall. Some juvenile males lightly marked below and appear adult-like.

Migration

  • Prairie Falcon migration poorly understood. For the most part, a short distance migrant, leaving the breeding grounds for nearby open terrain if larger prey base.
  • Some birds winter throughout the breeding range.
  • Solitary on migration, some juveniles disperse rather than truly migrate.
  • Seen along western ridges, and a few on the Great Plains, mainly from March to May and September to November.

Distribution

(Map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds. For dynamic distribution maps, visit the eBird website.)Prairie Falcon map