Photo: Pete Gregoire/Flickr Creative Commons

Prairie Falcon

Falco mexicanus

A large falcon of the arid west. The Prairie Falcon is nearly the size of the famous Peregrine, but differs in its hunting behavior, often pursuing small prey with rapid, maneuverable flight close to the ground. Although it is characteristic of desolate plains and desert wilderness, this falcon has also adapted to altered landscapes: in winter, it is often seen flying over southwestern cities, or hunting Horned Larks in farm country.
Conservation status Has undoubtedly declined in some developed areas, but current population probably stable.
Family Falcons
Habitat Open hills, plains, prairies, deserts. Typically found in fairly dry open country, including grassland and desert. Also in open country above treeline in high mountains. In winter, often found in farmland and around lakes and reservoirs, and may regularly winter in some western cities. Avoids forested country, and usually scarce on the immediate coast.
A large falcon of the arid west. The Prairie Falcon is nearly the size of the famous Peregrine, but differs in its hunting behavior, often pursuing small prey with rapid, maneuverable flight close to the ground. Although it is characteristic of desolate plains and desert wilderness, this falcon has also adapted to altered landscapes: in winter, it is often seen flying over southwestern cities, or hunting Horned Larks in farm country.
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Feeding Behavior

Uses a wide variety of hunting techniques. Often hunts by flying fast and low over ground, taking prey by surprise. Also will dive steeply from the air, or pursue birds in flight.


Eggs

Usually 3-5, sometimes 2-6. Whitish, spotted with brown. Incubation is mostly by female, about 31 days. Male brings food to incubating female, and he may sit on eggs temporarily while she is eating. Young: Female remains with young for about the first 4 weeks; male brings food, and female feeds it to young. After 4 weeks, female may do some hunting. Young leave the nest at about 5-6 weeks after hatching.


Young

Female remains with young for about the first 4 weeks; male brings food, and female feeds it to young. After 4 weeks, female may do some hunting. Young leave the nest at about 5-6 weeks after hatching.

Diet

Mostly small birds and mammals. Often will focus on one abundant and easily caught prey species at a time. May feed heavily on ground squirrels in early summer, shifting to young songbirds when many are fledging; in winter, may feed on common flocking birds like Horned Lark. Many other species eaten, up to size of grouse and jackrabbits; also lizards, insects.


Nesting

Courtship involves much flying about and calling near potential nesting ledges. Male performs aerial acrobatics, struts back and forth at nest site. Nest site is typically on a ledge of a cliff, in a recessed site, protected by an overhang of rock. Sometimes nests on dirt bank, or uses an abandoned nest of raven or hawk on ledge; rarely uses nest in tree. No nest built; only a simple scrape in gravel or dirt on ledge.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Many adults may be permanent resident near their nesting sites. Others move short distances south for winter. Some also move eastward somewhat on Great Plains after nesting season.

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Migration

Many adults may be permanent resident near their nesting sites. Others move short distances south for winter. Some also move eastward somewhat on Great Plains after nesting season.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud kree-kree-kree, most often heard near nest.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Prairie Falcon

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Prairie Falcon

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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