Types Of Falcons

If you are interested in bird spotting then falcons are a good place to start. There are around 40 types of falcon and they can be found all over the world. But how do you know which type of falcon you are looking at?

Where do the different types of falcons live? What type of habitat do they prefer? What do they eat? I have put together this guide to give you some information on some of the most well known types of falcons.

Keep reading to find out more about these fascinating birds. 

The Grey Falcon (Falco hypoleucos)

Photo by Christopher Watson

The gray falcon is the rarest type of falcon and is endemic to Australia. They are classed as endangered as there are only around 2,000 of them left in the wild.

This is because a lot of their preferred habitats have either been cleared or overgrazed. Gray falcons like open spaces like deserts, grasslands or prairies. 

The gray falcon diet is made up mostly of smaller birds such as songbirds and pigeons. They will also eat small mammals or reptiles, diving down into the grass.

If a gray falcon lives near the coast or a large body of water they will also swoop down and catch prey that is close to the surface of the water – such as fish or water fowl. 

Gray falcons are apex predators, which means they are at the top of their food chain. The only real threat they face comes from human intervention.

They also benefit from using the nests of other birds rather than having to build their own, leaving them more time to hunt and to find a mating partner. However, falcons only lay between 1 and 3 eggs per season. This means that it takes a long time for the population of gray falcons to recover after it has been impacted negatively by the destruction of habitat. 

The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Photo by Mykola Swarnyk

The Peregrine falcon is not only the most widely spread type of falcon, it’s also the most populous type of falcon bird. Like gray falcons, peregrines are apex predators. Despite being found on every single continent except from Antarctica, they are always an apex predator, in every single habitat.

Some species even adjust their migratory patterns over generations to avoid sharing a habitat with peregrine falcons. 

Peregrine falcons are very fast, reaching top speeds as they dive to catch their prey. They eat a lot of pigeons and other smaller birds, but will also eat small mammals like rabbits. They can catch prey in the air or scoop it up from the ground. 

The only threat that peregrine falcons have faced is the use of pesticides by humans. This caused a dip in their numbers, but their efficient hunting and the fact that they lay 3 to 4 eggs per mating season allowed the population to recover quickly. 

The Gyr Falcon (Falco rusticolus)

Photo by Ólafur Larsenderivative

The Peregrine Falcon may be the most common falcon, but the Gyr Falcon is the largest species. They are difficult to spot though, as they live in the high arctic and tend to avoid humans wherever possible. Only when they migrate south to Northern Canada and America can they be seen. 

Their habitats tend to consist of tundra and taiga with plenty of high spots for them to look out for prey. They will spend time perching on cliffs or tree tops, scanning the area for grouse, gulls and owls to catch.

The Gyr Falcon has to eat a lot to sustain themselves due to their size – they have a wingspan of around 2 feet long and can weigh up to three pounds – that’s very large for a falcon. To keep up their energy in mating season they must eat a third of their body weight every day. 

The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Photo by Greg Hume

From the largest type of falcon to the smallest – the American Kestrel is the smallest breed of falcon with a wingspan of only 22 inches. Adult American kestrels have an average weight of just over 4 ounces. Despite being a lot smaller than the other types of falcons, they are still excellent hunters.

They stick to smaller prey like insects, reptiles, and small birds and amphibians. They will also prey on small mammals like mice and voles. Unlike other species of falcon, American Kestrels are not apex predators. They are vulnerable to attacks from larger hawks and raptor birds. This doesn’t stop them from keeping their population numbers high.

American Kestrels can be found in Alaska, Canada, North America and Central Mexico and even some parts of the Caribbean.

An interesting feature of American Kestrels is that the males and females have different preferences when it comes to habitat. The males like areas with plenty of trees whereas the females prefer open spaces. The males and females also differ in appearance due to the colors of their feathers. 

The Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)

Photo by peterwchen

Prairie Falcons are a popular choice with bird enthusiasts and they are an excellent choice for falconry.

Prairie Falcons are smaller than Peregrine Falcons, but other than that they are very similar. They have similar hunting techniques and their appearance is very alike, with the same colorings and feather patterns. 

Prairie Falcons face more danger than Peregrine Falcons as they are smaller – they can be preyed upon by large owls such as Great-horned Owls. When the falcons are young they can also be caught by coyotes, eagles, bobcats and even badgers.

The other issue they have is their battle for nesting spaces with Peregrine Falcons. They tend to build their nests in similar areas, but Prairie Falcons are smaller and not as proficient at building nests. 

Prairie Falcons tend to eat a lot of squirrels, but they will also eat other small mammals. They hunt in open spaces, their preferred habitat, like deserts, prairies (hence the name), meadows and fields. 

Final Thoughts

Falcons are an interesting type of raptor bird. They are known as excellent hunters, and there are various different types of falcons with different behaviors. 


Why do people raise falcons?

Some people keep falcons for personal reasons but a lot of the time, they are bred and raised for commercial purposes. They are a great (and natural) pest control machine. They are used at airports, wineries and sensitive urban areas to stop mammals and other birds destroying property.

Is seeing a falcon good luck?

In some cultures, yes it is. Some people think that the falcon species represents wisdom and that when you see one, you should look into your future.

Are falcons dangerous to humans?

While falcons have sharp beaks and talons and can be aggressive when intruders come into their territory, they are unlikely to attack a human. They might make a lot of noise and act aggressively and that usually does the trick.

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