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Falcons in Illinois (3 Species)

Compared to hawks, falcons have longer wings and are built for speed. Hawks typically fly slower and kill their prey with their talons rather than their beaks like falcons do. In this article we’ll look at the 3 species of falcons in Illinois. In addition to pictures and some interesting facts about each species, we’ll learn about where and when they can be found in the state of Illinois. 

3 species of falcons in Illinois

The 3 species of falcons found in the state of Illinois are the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon.

Even though there may be some rare occurrences of them, the Prairie Falcon is found to the west of Illinois and the Gyrfalcon is found to the north. So they are not included on this list.

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 Illinois 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.  

2. Merlin

Length: 9.4-11.8 in
Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in

Merlins are another small falcon in Illinois, but they can typically only be seen in the state during times of migration. These migratory birds fly north to Canada, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest 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 migratory range in the state of Illinois. Most North American Peregrines migrate far north to arctic regions of Canada and even Greenland each year to breed. However there are some spots where both year-round or breeding peregrines in the lower 48 states. 

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.