• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer

Prairie Falcon

Falco mexicanus ORDER: FALCONIFORMES FAMILY: FALCONIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A raptor of the West’s wide-open spaces, Prairie Falcons glide above shrubby deserts and grasslands searching for ground squirrels and other small mammals and birds. In flight, look for the dark triangle of “armpit” feathers that distinguish it from other light-colored falcons. On the breeding territory you may hear a Prairie Falcon pair’s loud courtship calls, but roosting birds can be tough to spot: their muted cream, brown, and gray plumage blends perfectly with the steep bluffs and cliffs where they nest.

Keys to identification Help

Hawks
Hawks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Prairie Falcons are large falcons about the size of a peregrine. They have pointed wings and medium-long tails.

  • Color Pattern

    Prairie Falcons are brown above and pale with brown markings on the breast and belly. From below, they show dark under the wing from the "armpit" to the wrist. From above, the tail is paler and contrasts with the back and wings. They have a pale stripe above the eye and a brown mustache stripe.

  • Behavior

    Prairie Falcons often hunt from low altitudes, flapping powerfully across open areas and surprising prey by hugging the ground contours to stay out of view.

  • Habitat

    They occur in wide-open habitats of the West, including sagebrush, desert, prairie, agricultural fields, and alpine meadows up to about 11,000 feet elevation. They nest on ledges on sheer rocky cliffs.

Range Map Help

Prairie Falcon Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Peregrine Falcon has slightly more pointed wings and a shorter tail than Prairie Falcon. Peregrine has a bolder, thicker mustache stripe and in flight does not show the dark underwing and armpits of Prairie Falcon. Gyrfalcon is occasionally seen in winter in the northern part of Prairie Falcon's range. Gyrfalcon is larger and bulkier than Prairie Falcon, with broader, less pointed wings. American Kestrel and Merlin are both substantially smaller than Prairie Falcon. Kestrels have more slender wings, narrower chests, smaller heads that show two facial stripes, and are barred brown or brown-and-gray on the back and wings. Merlins show only a faint mustache stripe, show heavily streaked underparts, and have banded tails.

Find This Bird

Look for these fairly large falcons in the open, treeless spaces of the West, where they can be dwarfed by the size of the landscape. Prairie Falcons spend much of the day on the move, so you'll need to be quick with your binoculars. Watch for them cruising fairly low over the land rather than soaring high in the sky. It's also worth scanning for perched birds, which you may find sitting on low perches including fence posts and irrigation structures.

×

Search

Or Browse Bird Guide by Family, Name or Shape
×
bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.

×

The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.