When it comes to falcons in Arizona, you’ll find 5 different species. In this article we’ll take a look at these amazing birds and learn a few things about them, such as where and when you can spot them, what they look like, and a few fun facts about each.
Arizona is located in the southwest near the Mexico border. Moderately sized, the state has an area of almost 114k square miles. Positioned just north of Mexico, Arizona is also right in the migratory path of many different species of birds. So it would make sense that there are several different species of falcons in Arizona.
Falcons, part of the family Falconidae, are birds of prey but different from eagles, kites, and hawks in several ways. Though they are all in the order Falconiformes. Unlike these other raptors, falcons kill their prey with their beaks rather than their talons.
There are over 60 species of falcons in the world with 6 of those species living in the United States. 5 of these species can be found in the state of Arizona.
5 species of falcons in Arizona
The 5 species of falcons found in Arizona are the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Crested Caracara, and the Aplomado Falcon.
With that being said, let’s get to the list of Arizona falcons!
1. American Kestrel
Length: 8.7-12.2 in
Weight: 2.8-5.8 oz
Wingspan: 20.1-24.0 in
The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon, but don’t let that fool you. Kestrels are fierce predators that can take down other birds as big or bigger than they are, such as Northern Flickers. They primarily feed on insects and invertebrates, but also eat small mammals and other birds. They can be found throughout Arizona all year, however some kestrels that live further south may migrate north to breed.
These tiny falcons have small heads and beaks as well as some beautiful markings, especially the males with their blue wings and brown spots. Both male and female of this species have dark vertical stripes on their heads and are very pretty birds. Look for them in the summer when they are most active on fence posts and telephone wires when driving, especially when out in the country or rural areas.
Length: 9.4-11.8 in
Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
Merlins are another small falcon in Arizona. They are found throughout the state in the winter and non-breeding season, but are migratory birds and fly north to Canada to breed each year. Their primary food source is other birds and are known for hunting in pairs allowing them to be extremely effective hunters. Merlins are slightly larger than kestrels and like kestrels, the females are larger than the males.
Merlins are very widespread raptors and can be found in some capacity in all of North America. In the early 20th century their population was on the decline, but they have since recovered and are listed as low concern. Merlins are usually on the move stalking sparrows and other small birds so they aren’t easy to spot. When they aren’t in flight they’re perched high in the treetops and thinking about their next meal. So keep an eye out near forest edges and on low perches in open grasslands.
3. Peregrine Falcon
Length: 14.2-19.3 in
Weight: 18.7-56.4 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 in
Peregrine Falcons have a year-round range in most of Arizona. Most Peregrines in the U.S. migrate far north to arctic regions of Canada and even Greenland each year to breed. At one point in the mid 20th century their population was almost eradicated due to pesticides, they have since made a comeback and are regularly seen in the wild.
Peregrines are not only the fastest bird, but the fastest animals on the planet reaching speeds of well over 200 mph when diving for prey. Some sources claim up to 240 mph. They can be found in many National Parks in the United States including the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Acadia, Rocky Mountain, and Zion. There are an estimated 23,000 Peregrine Falcons currently living in the United States.
4. Prairie Falcon
Length: 14.6-18.5 in
Weight: 14.8-38.8 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-44.5 in
Prairie Falcons prefer wide open spaces like grasslands and fields where they soar high overhead looking for their next meal which is usually small mammals or other birds. They are found throughout Arizona and the western half of the United States.
Prairie Falcons, like Peregrines, are one of the most popular birds for falconry and hunting. Look for them soaring overhead with a pair of binoculars, or even perched along fence posts or on cliffs. Their brown colors do make them somewhat camouflaged and difficult to spot sometimes. Prairie Falcons are larger than a Merlin, but slightly smaller than a Peregrine Falcon.
5. Crested Caracara
Length: 19.3-22.8 in
Weight: 37.0-45.9 oz
Wingspan: 48.0-49.2 in
The Crested Caracara looks unlike any of the other species of falcons in Arizona. They are most common in Central America but are found in a few spotty areas of the Southern United States. In Arizona, they are most common only in far southern areas of the state south of Tucson.
Crested Caracaras look like a combination of a hawk and a vulture with their large, sharp talons and their orange faces. In size they are a bit larger than Peregrine Falcons.
Crested Caracaras are omnivores but are though to feed mainly on carrion. They are commonly perched high up on tree branches, however they are also commonly seen on the ground and may be spotted eating roadkill and other dead animals. This would explain the vulture-like face that they have.
The information in this article has been cross-checked with current range-maps provided by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and are accurate to the best of our knowledge.