With over 4.7 million acres of designated wilderness, Idaho is home to wildlife of all kinds. This includes some magnificent birds of prey, which is what we’ll be talking about in this article. There are 5 species of falcons in Idaho, in the below list we’ll look at each one of these species and learn a bit about them.
Falcons in Idaho
The 5 types of falcons in Idaho are the American Kestrel, Merlin, Gyrfalcon, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie 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
American Kestrels have a year-round range throughout the state of Idaho, aside from far eastern areas of the state where they are just Spring and Summer residents. These birds can be seen perching on telephone wires and fence posts when in the country, keeping a keen eye out for insects, small mammals, and reptiles to snatch up. Kestrels also have to be sure to keep an eye out for predators, as they are often meals for larger birds of prey, such as hawks, owls, and crows, as well as snakes.
American Kestrels are the smallest falcons in Idaho and North America, they also happen to be the most colorful. Males have grey-blue wings and a rusty orange back with black barring. The tail is also rusty orange with black tips. The pale belly is washed with orange and pleasantly spotted with small, black polka dots.
Scientific name: Falco columbarius
Length: 9.4-11.8 in
Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
The Merlin is another small species of falcon found throughout Idaho, though only in Eastern and Northeastern Idaho can they be found all year long. In the very northern tip of Idaho that borders Canada they are breeding residents only. In the rest of the state they are just found in the non-breeding season. They can be identified by their gray or slate gray upper-parts and mostly brown underbody with short black stripes.
They are only slightly bigger than American Kestrels but can appear somewhat larger and heavier. Merlins do not build their own nests but will take over the nests of other raptors or birds. They feed primarily on small songbirds and have been known to hunt flocks of birds in pairs to increase chances of success.
Scientific name: Falco rusticolus
Length: 18.9-25.2 in
Weight: 28.2-74.1 oz
Wingspan: 48.4 in
The Gyrfalcon is the largest of falcons in Idaho and the entire world! Even though they can occasionally be seen in the state, they are very rare in Idaho making sightings uncommon. These birds breed far to north in the Arctic Archipelago of Canada and into Greenland. The southernmost parts of their winter range dips down into a few northern U.S. states such as Northern Idaho.
They are easily identified by their beautiful white plumage with black and gray spots. However you may see variants of this species that are more grayish black than white. Gyrfalcons are powerful yet beautiful birds of prey that prey on other birds as their primary food source. Gyrfalcon is pronounced “Jer-Falcon”.
4. Peregrine Falcon
Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
Length: 14.2-19.3 in
Weight: 18.7-56.4 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 in
This falcon is mostly a migratory bird that only passes through the state, but there are some pockets of spotty breeding populations of Peregrine Falcons in Idaho. Even thought the Peregrine was pushed to the edge of extinction in North America at one point, they have made a comeback in recent decades and are among the most widespread birds in the world. They are found on all continents on earth except for Antarctica.
Peregrine Falcons are amazing aerial acrobats and fierce hunters. They can reach speeds of over 200 mph when diving for prey, making them the fastest animals on the planet. They feed almost exclusively on other birds and have been documented eating over 450 different species in North America and 2,000 worldwide.
5. Prairie Falcon
Scientific name: Falco mexicanus
Length: 14.6-18.5 in
Weight: 14.8-38.8 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-44.5 in
Prairie Falcons are common throughout most of the western half of the United States, and found year-round in most of Idaho. As their name suggests they prefer wide-open treeless grasslands and can be seen flying high overhead looking for ground squirrels and other small mammals. Because they spend most of their time soaring they can be difficult to spot unless they land, or you have a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.
They are close in size to Peregrines and like Peregrines they are commonly used in Falconry. They are mostly brown on top and pale white on bottom. Prairie Falcons nest high on sheer ledges or rocky cliffs and are known for fiercely protecting their nests from any intruders.