Living Bird Magazine
Prairie FalconFalco mexicanus
- ORDER: Falconiformes
- FAMILY: Falconidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Halcón Mexicano (Spanish)
- Faucon des prairies (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Prairie Falcon sometimes bathes in river shallows, but dust-bathing is probably more common than water-bathing, because of the general scarcity of standing water in its habitat.
- Like Peregrine Falcons, Prairie Falcons are highly susceptible to the eggshell-thinning effects of DDT. Prairie Falcon populations weren't hit as hard as peregrines and Merlins in the 20th century because their mammal-based diet exposed them to lower pesticide levels than their bird-eating relatives.
- Prairie Falcons are among the species of birds that seem to play—they've been seen dropping dried cow manure in midair and then diving to catch it. Like young ball players flipping a baseball to themselves, this may be a way to sharpen their coordination skills.
- Prairie Falcon pairs are notoriously aggressive in defending their nest sites—against Great Horned Owls, eagles, hawks, and even other Prairie Falcons, sometimes killing fledglings that stray into the wrong territory.
- Prairie Falcons are popular falconry birds, and 19 states allow falconers to capture the birds (mostly as nestlings) to train.
- The oldest known Prairie Falcon was at least 17 years, 3 months old based on banding data. It was banded in Alberta in 1975, and killed by another raptor in Montana in 1992.