Falcons are diverse birds with various characteristics, behaviors, habitats, and dietary preferences. The ecology of different types of falcons should interest many people, and this article aims to explore these birds of prey.
From the small Kestrel found in dense forests to the swift Peregrine Falcons, this article offers a varied and informative look into the many species of this bird family. Read on to learn more about these powerful avians that inhabit the skies.
The Falconidae family comprises about 60 extant species. Falcons branch out into 11 diverse genera within this broad group, introducing notable species. Falco, the largest genus, houses the most species, which vary in size and behavior.
Another genera is the Caracara, which is home to the terrestrial caracaras. Also, the Micrastur comprises forest falcons known for their stealth and adept hunting in dense woodlands.
Members span all continents, thriving in diverse environments from urban cityscapes to isolated Arctic tundras. Known for their impeccable hunting prowess, falcons are generally solitary creatures, exhibiting remarkable speed and precision in their flight.
In this article, we will focus on four main groups of the Falco genus: Kestrels, Hobbies, Falcons, and Hierofalcon.
Kestrels hover over open areas before swiftly swooping down to capture their prey. Their other name is sparrow hawk because they catch sparrows and other similarly sized birds in mid-flight.
The American Kestrel is a small but energetic falcon commonly found in North America4, central Mexico, and the Caribbean. They can live in open grasslands, harsh deserts, and urban areas.
It is the smallest falcon species, weighing around 8 to 12 inches and weighing approximately 2.8 to 5.8 ounces. At first sight, its vibrant plumage featuring warm-toned shades of rust, gray, and white, paired with a distinct black slash near its eyes, is striking. Its slender, sharp beak is a dark yellow, often tipped with black.
The American Kestrel's diverse diet includes insects, mammals, and birds. Its unique hunting technique involves mid-air hovering and a speedy and precise dive.
The Common Kestrel, also known as the European Kestrel, Eurasian Kestrel, or Old World Kestrel, is a bird of prey found in various habitats across the globe.
Hues of chestnut-brown distinguish them and have intricate black markings contrasted by a lighter, almost cream-colored, underbelly. Its beak is a muted grey, shaped sharply for skillful hunting. A small-to-medium bird of prey typically measures between 13 to 17 inches in length and weighs approximately 5 to 10 ounces.
The Mauritius Kestrel is a compact bird of prey, standing around 8 to 10 inches tall with a weight range of 4 to 6 ounces. This falcon displays a warm chestnut-brown color across much of its body, while its tail and wing feathers boast black stripes. Its powerful beak is an eye-catching yellow, contrasting starkly against its brown head.
They were once the world's rarest bird, with only four individuals in the wild in 1974. However, dedicated conservation efforts have helped the bird recover, and its population has increased to around 170-200 birds today.
Despite its successful rebound, the Mauritius Kestrel is still listed as an endangered species due to its small population size and limited habitat range, which make it vulnerable to habitat destruction and predators.
The Lesser Kestrel inhabits open grasslands, farmlands, and steppe landscapes. They breed from April to August in Europe and Central Asia and migrate to Africa for the winter.
The Lesser Kestrel is a small bird of prey, typically weighing between 4 to 6 ounces and spanning a length of 10 to 12 inches. Its plumage is slate-gray on the male's head and tail but more earthy brown for females. Their undersides display a dappled pattern of cream and brown, while their sharp beak is a notable yellow with a hook at the end for tearing prey.
Their diet consists mainly of grasshoppers, beetles, and other small invertebrates, and they may occasionally eat a small rodent or bird.
Slightly larger than kestrels, hobbies are powerful and skilled at aerial maneuvers. They are known for their long, narrow wings and dark plumage. With four unique species in Europe and Australia, hobbies sustain themselves by primarily eating smaller birds.
The Eurasian Hobby lives in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is known for its agility and precision while hunting dragonflies, butterflies, and other insects in mid-air.
Likewise, it is a relatively small raptor, with a body length typically between 12-14 inches and around 0.5 pounds. It carries an aesthetically pleasing mix of colors on its feathers: its back and wings are bluish-gray. At the same time, the underparts have a reddish tint. Its beak is dark, sharply hooked, and well-suited for carnivorous preferences.
It builds its nest by repurposing the abandoned nests of other birds. Moreover, it hunts silently by surprising its prey as it flies low over water bodies or vegetation.
The Australian Hobby is found in Australia and New Guinea and is known for its agility and swiftness.
This type of falcon is an elegant raptor, smaller in stature, typically measuring 12 to 14 inches long, and weighing approximately half a pound. A slender body profile is dressed in charcoal grey and soft white plumage. Its beak, robust and hooked, features a distinctive yellow-orange hue.
It hunts insects and small birds during the late afternoon and early evening. The bird is also an opportunistic nester, often taking over old nests abandoned by other birds. Moreover, this territorial bird usually hunts alone or in pairs.
The Oriental Hobby is a medium-sized Asian falcon species. They weigh between 6.5 to 9 ounces and measure about 10 to 12 inches in length. They sport a sleek coat of gray and rufous feathers, contrasted by dark, slate-colored beaks and slate-blue feet.
Likewise, it is an efficient hunter that catches prey mid-flight, including beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, small birds, and bats.
The Oriental Hobby nests in the cooler regions of the Himalayas and migrates to Southeast Asia during winter.
Falcons combine speed, agility, and precision that few other creatures can match. They soar through the air up to 240 miles per hour and accurately capture their prey. These versatile hunters thrive in various environments and possess exceptional eyesight.
The Peregrine Falcon is a bird of prey known for its exceptional flying abilities3. It is the world’s fastest bird, reaching up to 240mph.
They hover between 15-20 inches in size and weigh from 1.2 to 3.5 pounds. This raptor showcases slate-gray backs and barred white undersides, its beak—piercing yellow, as sharp as its predatory instincts. The intricate design of their plumage sets them apart, truly an exhibition of nature's canvas.
Moreover, Peregrine Falcons are globally distributed species often found near coasts, cliffs, mountains, and bodies of water.
These falcons hunt for smaller birds such as pigeons, doves, waterfowl, songbirds, and waders. Their razor-sharp talons make them highly efficient predators.
The Merlin Falcon is a bird of prey known for its excellent hunting abilities and swift flight. It is found across the Northern Hemisphere in various habitats and is highly adaptable. As a migratory bird, this type of falcon travels south during winter and primarily feeds on small birds.
Female Merlin Falcons are larger than males, and their plumage is brown, while males are slate-blue to dark gray. They measure between 9.4 and 13.4 inches long and weigh approximately 5.6-8.5 ounces.
The bird has an average lifespan of six years in the wild but can live up to ten years in captivity.
The Prairie Falcon is a bird of prey that inhabits the arid regions of North and Central America.
They typically measure about 14 to 20 inches in length and weigh between 1.5 and 3.3 pounds. Exhibiting earth-toned plumage, this raptor bears a dominant beige-pale body that contrasts with the darker axillaries. The beak, impressively robust, reveals a muted yellow hue.
Prairie falcons tend to eat whatever is available, such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs. Still, they may also catch smaller birds or reptiles. Moreover, the prairie falcon hunts using a high-speed dive or "stoop" to catch prey in mid-air.
This bird is territorial, especially during its breeding season from March to July, and breeding pairs return to the same nesting site year after year5, usually on cliff faces.
The Collared Forest Falcon sports deep slate-grey plumage, adding camouflage to its dense forest habitat. A distinguishing cream-color collar wraps around its neck. Its beak and talons, both powerful and sharp, show a rare shade of yellow. On average, these falcons range from 1.5 to 2 feet long, with weight fluctuating up to 1.5 pounds.
Unlike many falcons, the Collared Forest Falcon lives in dense forest areas and woodlands. It finds its way across the forest floor using its short wings and elongated tail.
The Collared Forest Falcons are skilled predators that prey on mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. It uses precise and agile hunting techniques and loud and distinctive calls.
While it is a solitary creature, both parents are responsible for incubating their eggs and raising their young during the breeding season.
The Grey Falcon is a vulnerable bird species; the scientific community considers it one of Australia's rarest birds of prey.
The Grey Falcon is notable for its light-grey plumage, which gives the bird its name. Their wingtips and tail feathers often feature a darker shade of grey. Their beak is blue-grey that lightens at the base, while their feet are a vivid yellow. A small bird, the Grey Falcon usually measures 14-17 inches in length and weighs from 1.2 to 1.6 pounds.
Thanks to its pale grey feathers, this bird can blend into its habitat, primarily in arid and semi-arid regions. Grey falcons live in open habitats with sparse vegetation.
The Grey Falcon is a highly skilled hunter known for its skill and speed. Its diet is diverse and ranges from mammals to reptiles. However, it is particularly noteworthy for its hunting of other birds.
The Red-footed Falcon soars freely across Europe and Asia. This raptor is relatively small, measuring 28-34 cm in length, but it has red feet and 'trousers' that stand out from the rest of its body. The male falcon has a blue-grey coat, while the females and juveniles have a browner shade.
These types of falcons maneuver mid-air to catch their prey adeptly, feeding mainly on beetles and grasshoppers. However, they also hunt small mammals, birds, and amphibians. Red-footed Falcons also hunt in teams.
They prefer open spaces such as marshes, heaths, and farmlands and often occupy abandoned nests of rooks and crows.
Both parents take responsibility for raising their young from egg to flight, and they are naturally monogamous.
The Sooty Falcon is a prey bird inhabiting North Africa and the Middle East. They exhibit a streamlined body with an overall grey-blue color. Even more striking is its sleek, curved yellow beak. The adults are approximately 13-16 inches long and weigh around 0.5 pounds, lending them a moderate build.
This type of falcon undertakes remarkable long-distance migrations. An adult Sooty Falcon traveled over 3400 miles from UAE to Madagascar in 13 days1.
The Sooty Falcon is a skilled hunter, using its swift and agile flight to catch prey in mid-air. Its diet consists mainly of small birds and flying insects, although it prefers dragonflies. Interestingly, it likes to hunt at dawn or dusk.
The Aplomado Falcon is a slender bird, typically measuring 13 to 17 inches long and weighing 9 to 14 ounces. Its plumage is distinct: a gray-blue upper body and wings contrast against a creamy underside streaked with thin, dark bands. The falcon's beak, a pointed tool, is a stark yellow-orange.
The bird lives in the Americas, ranging from the southwestern parts of the United States through Central and South America, including Southern Mexico and Northern Argentina.
Aplomado Falcons prefer wide-open spaces, sparse vegetation of grasslands and savannas, far-reaching marshes, semi-arid regions, and forest clearings.
While hunting, a small group or pair of falcons work together to flush out prey from its hiding place, with others waiting to swoop in for the kill.
Aplomado Falcons are not picky eaters, preying on small birds, insects, mammals, or reptiles.
The bird's call is a quick, high-pitched note followed by a longer, lower-pitched note.
The New Zealand Falcon, known as "Karearea" in its native land, is a unique bird species. Weighing between 10.6-17.6 ounces and spanning from 14-18 inches, this bird presents a formidable sight.
Its turbulent plumage flits between dark brown and black hues, contrasting sharply with a cream-colored underbelly. The beak, like a curved dagger, adorns a shade of grey tinged with a subtle shade of
New Zealand Falcons inhabit diverse habitats, from coastal areas to alpine environments, and can be found in almost every corner of the country.
They typically live in dense native forests in the South Island but can also roam open landscapes in the North Island.
Regarding their diet, New Zealand Falcons are opportunistic hunters and consume small birds, mammals, insects, and reptiles. They are known for their speed, agility, and precision while hunting. They hunt alone and swoop on unsuspecting prey.
Observing a Brown Falcon can be an exciting experience. As its name portrays, it has a predominantly brown plumage, with hues ranging from shoulder to dusk. Its beak is sturdy, hooked, and light grey, an attribute that marks its predatory lifestyle.
These types of falcons span between 18-24 inches in length, typically weighing from 1.1 to 2.7 pounds. They can thrive in habitats such as open woodlands, grasslands, arid regions, and urban areas. It feeds on mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and occasionally scavenges carrion.
When hunting, the Brown Falcon perches high above the ground, scanning for potential prey. It swoops quickly once it spots a target, sometimes going on a mid-air chase.
The Amur Falcon, a small bird of prey, weighs about 4.2 to 7.8 ounces with a wingspan measuring 32 to 40 inches. Distinctive in appearance, they sport slate-grey plumage on their upperparts while their underparts exhibit a stunning orange color.
Amur Falcons are known widely for having the longest migration route on an open sea of all birds of prey2; for around 9,000 miles,, they travel between their breeding grounds in southeast Russia and northern China and the coasts of eastern or southern Africa.
The term “Hierofalcon” comes from the fusion of two Ancient Greek words meaning hawk and falcon, referring to their esteemed place among predatory birds. The four distinct species mostly have a reddish or brownish hue with strong patterns.
They also have a wide range of habitats. For example, the Gyrfalcon is the largest and calls the Arctic region home. Meanwhile, the Saker Falcon thrives in Eastern Europe and Asia.
The Saker Falcon is a large bird of prey found in Eastern Europe and Asia. Its light-to-dark distinguishes it contrasted plumage, varying from a sandy brown to ruddy hues. It's home to dark stripes under its eyes, and its beak's grey-blue color adds a striking note.
Typically, adult Saker Falcons range from 18 to 23 inches in length, with a weight between 1.5 to 3 pounds, making it one of the larger raptor species.
It eats rodents, birds, and larger animals like hares, foxes and nests in various locations during the breeding season.
Unfortunately, IUCN classifies them as endangered falcon species due to offtake for falconry, reduction of prey, and power line electrocution.
The Gyrfalcon is the largest member of the falcon family and is found in the Arctic. It has adapted to the harsh and cold environment with its thick plumage and fast metabolic rate.
Its feathers range from a striking white to jet black, often with flecks of lighter colors. The sturdy beak complements the plumage with its yellow or blue-gray hue. On average, this bird measures 20 to 25 inches in length. At the same time, its weight oscillates between 2 and 4.5 pounds, affirming its formidable presence in the skies.
The bird is a high-speed aerial hunter who mainly feeds on birds and small mammals.
Our last type of falcon is a territorial and solitary creature, occupying the same nesting sites year after year. Its territory spans 9,000 square kilometers.
Javed, S., Douglas, D. C., Khan, S., Shah, J. N., & Al Hammadi, A. A. (2012). First description of autumn migration of Sooty Falcon Falco concolor from the United Arab Emirates to Madagascar using satellite telemetry. Bird Conservation International, 22(1), 106-119.
Meyburg, B. U., Meyburg, C., & Pretorius, R. (2017). Year-round satellite tracking of Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) reveals the longest migration of any raptor species across the open sea. In From avian tracking to population processes, British Ornithologists’ Union Annual Conference University of Warwick.
Tucker, V. A. (1998). Gliding flight: speed and acceleration of ideal falcons during diving and pulling out. Journal of Experimental Biology, 201(4), 403-414.
Smallwood, J. A., & Bird, D. M. (2002). American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), version 2.0. In A. Poole & F. Gill (Eds.), The Birds of North America. Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Steenhof, K. (2013). Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY, USA: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.