The beautiful Hawaiian islands are known for all sorts of exotic and unique flora and fauna. But its remote, isolated location means some groups of animals have evolved to fill very specific niches, while other groups of animals are entirely absent. When it comes to falcons in Hawaii, there are no native species. However there are two falcons that may visit Hawaii in the winter, the Peregrine Falcon and the Merlin.
2 Falcons in Hawaii
The Peregrine Falcon is really the only falcon that regularly visits the islands. Even then, it is estimated that maybe only about 2 per year spend time on the islands during the winter months. The second falcon we talk about here, the Merlin, is pretty rare and only a few sightings have been recorded.
Other birds of prey that may be mistaken for falcons in Hawaii are hawks are and Osprey’s. Check our our article here to learn about the hawks in Hawaii.
1. 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 have been spotted on nearly every Hawaiian island, but they aren’t very common. It is not currently believed that any live in Hawaii year-round, nor do they breed here. But some do end up visiting from Canada or the U.S. west coast as they wander during the winter months. In fact, it often makes the local news when a Peregrine visits downtown Honolulu. They like to use tall buildings for perching, a great way to find a food source – pigeons!
Most Peregrines in the continental U.S. migrate far north to arctic regions of Canada and even Greenland each year to breed. Their name, “peregrine” means wanderer / pilgrim. This hints at their widespread nature, being found on early every continent world wide.
Due to pesticide poisoning, populations in eastern North America were almost totally wiped out by the middle of the 20th century. Thankfully, they have made a strong comeback.
Males and females look the same. These crow-sized falcons have a dark back and head, with a light chest and streaked underparts. They have a bright yellow coloring on their legs, around their eye and at the base of their beak.
Peregrines are not only the fastest bird, but also the fastest animals on the planet reaching speeds of well over 200 mph when diving for prey. Their prey is mainly birds, almost any species is on the menu. In urban settings, pigeons can be a large part of their diet. They also eat bats and rodents.
These falcons nest on cliff faces, even incredibly steep ones like those found in the Grand Canyon. They will also sometimes use abandoned eagle, owl or red-tailed hawk nests if there aren’t any cliffs available.
- Scientific name: Falco columbarius
- Length: 9.4-11.8 in
- Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
- Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
Merlins spend the winter from northern parts of South America up through the U.S. west coast, then head further north through the U.S. to Canada and Alaska to breed in the summer.
Hawaii is not part of their official range, however a few rare sightings have been noted. They would most likely wander to Hawaii between December and March, when they are less concerned about territory and are looking for a warm place to spend the winter.
Their primary food source is other birds, such as house sparrows, dickcissels, sandpipers and other shorebirds. Merlins are experts at the high speed attack, zooming across the ground horizontally or even chasing their prey from below, forcing them higher and higher until they get tired. They have sometimes been observed hunting large flocks of birds in pairs.
Merlins are slightly larger than kestrels, with a stocky body and squarish head. They have a heavily streaked chest and belly, but their coloring can differ slightly from gray to brown due to geographic location. In flight, they are heavily barred on the underside of their wings.
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.
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