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Falcons in North Carolina – The 3 Species

Falcons can be found throughout North America and the world. Though they’re not really as common or as easily spotted as other 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 North Carolina. Let’s look at look at some pictures of each species and also learn some fun facts. 

3 Species of Falcon in North Carolina

There are just 3 species of falcons found in North Carolina: The American Kestrel, the Merlin, and the Peregrine Falcon.

1. American Kestrel

Image: bemtec |

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 American Kestrels living throughout North Carolina, 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 lack the gray wings and heads, and their 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.

2. Merlin

Image: adriankirby |

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 North Carolina, Merlins are only seen as they migrate towards the coast. In the far eastern quarter of North Carolina however is where their wintering grounds are. Many Merlins have a wintering range here along the east coast of the U.S. to the north and south.

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

About like the Merlin, Peregrine Falcons are mainly found during the winters near the coast in North Carolina, the rest of the state they just migrate through. Peregrine fly far north to breed in arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland. There are, however, a few spots in the lower 48 states where Peregrine Falcons have breeding grounds.

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.