Falcons can be found throughout North America and the world. They’ve captured the imaginations of people the world over, but they’re not as common or as easily spotted as larger raptors like hawks or eagles. Falcons are smaller, faster birds and, while they tend to be fairly common, there are relatively few species of falcon. This article will focus on the falcons in Georgia, and I mean the actual birds of prey not the NFL team in Atlanta.
3 Species of Falcon in Georgia
There are just 3 species of falcons found in Georgia: The American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon.
1. American Kestrel
Scientific name: Falco sparverius
Length: 8.7-12.2 in
Weight: 2.8-5.8 oz
Wingspan: 20.1-24.0 in
You’ll find kestrels living throughout Georgia, all year-long. While these birds do migrate in some places, in most of their range they don’t. Kestrels like open habitats such as grasslands, where their insect prey is easy to spot. They’ve adapted well to urban life, though, and they’re a common sight around cities. Next time you’re at an outdoor sporting event as the sun is going down, take a look at the lights. It’s not uncommon to find a kestrel or two feasting on the moths that gather around them.
Kestrels can often be spotted perched on fence posts or telephone wires, or street lights as they search for prey. You can recognize the males by their reddish-brown backs, slate grey wings and heads, and white bellies with black bars. Females lake the grey wings and heads, and they bellies are more of a cream color. Kestrels can also be identified by their size- they’re tiny. These are the smallest raptors in North America.
Scientific name: Falco columbarius
Length: 9.4-11.8 in
Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
In most of Georgia, merlins are only seen as they migrate towards the coast. The southern third of Georgia, though, is part of their wintering ground. While merlins are roughly the same size as the kestrel, they weigh almost three times as much because they’re much more muscular. As a result, merlins are powerful fliers that tend to move fast and low to the ground- usually less the three feet above it, in fact.
Merlins have been observed hunting as a team. One merlin will flush a flock of birds out of hiding, driving them towards their partner. The other swoops in and makes the kill. This behavior is very unique, as most raptors are hunt alone. Merlins like open woodlands, but they are growing increasingly common in urban areas.
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3. Peregrine Falcon
Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
Length: 14.2-19.3 in
Weight: 18.7-56.4 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 in
Peregrine Falcons migrate through Georgia on their way to breeding and wintering grounds. In most of the state, you’ll only see them in the spring and fall. There are, however, two populations of Peregrine Falcons that winter in Georgia. In the southeast corner of the state and the other in Atlanta. You’ll find them in open areas near cliff faces, or skyscrapers. They like to perch in high areas while they scan for prey.
Atlanta, like other major cities, provides an ideal habitat for peregrines. The skyscrapers furnish plenty of high ledges for them to perch on and hunt from, and the city is full of one of their favorite foods: pigeons. Peregrines spot their prey from their perch, and then take to the air. They circle high above their target to gain altitude and then attack in a steep dive. This unique hunting method, and their taste for pigeons, means peregrines have adapted to city life remarkably well.