Falcons of Texas (6 Species to Know)

Falcons are the stealth fighter jets of the bird world. Recording some of the fastest speeds of all winged animals, these dynamic flyers are captivating to watch.

There are five species of falcons that can be found in Texas on an annual basis with some being common, and others quite rare. Here is everything you need to know about those six species.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel
Identification

The American Kestrel is a small and colorful bird. Males have a rusty colored back as well as a lighter rusty colored underside. They have blue on their wings and the top of their head along with black markings near their eye. Females are lighter overall with rusty orange barring on their wings, back, and tail.

Range

American Kestrels live in both South America and North America. In North America, Kestrels are migratory and reside in Mexico in winter, then move into Canada during the breeding season. Throughout much of the United States, American Kestrels can be found year round.

Diet and Foraging Habits

American Kestrels eat small creatures including insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and rodents. In terms of the insects they eat, some of the most commonly consumed are grasshoppers, dragonflies, and cicadas.

Where to Find this Bird

American Kestrels are a common sight along roadsides and in open fields. They can be seen on telephone poles and wires or perched on dead trees and other structures. Kestrels can also be found in urban parks, pastures, and farm fields.

Aplomado Falcon (Rare)

Aplomado Falcons
Aplomado Falcons
Identification

Aplomado Falcons are sleek looking Falcons with a long black and white barred tail, dark gray to black wings, and rust on their underside near their legs. This species has intricate facial patterning with white cheeks, a white throat, and white stripe behind the eye with dark gray or black in between.

Range

Aplomado Falcons live throughout much of South America with the exception of the rainforests of Brazil. In the United States, this species can only be found in the most southern part of Texas. Aplomado Falcons are generally non-migratory and will stay in the same area year round.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Aplomado Falcons eat many different small creatures including insects, lizards, rodents, and other birds. They are fast moving and hunt actively, often taking prey out of the air.

Where to Find this Bird

Aplomado Falcons are at home in desert and grasslands near coastlines. In the United States, the best place to see them is in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, but finding one isn’t always easy. There are nest boxes placed around the valley that can prove to be good places to find this species. In these areas check the nest boxes, power-lines, and fence posts to see if you can spot this colorful raptor.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara
Crested Caracara
Identification

Crested Caracaras are large birds sometimes referred to as “Mexican Eagles.” In spite of this nickname, these birds are actually members of the falcon family and are easily identified by their white face and neck, black crest, brown body and wings, white undertail, and bi-colored gray and orange bill. In flight, Crested Caracaras show white markings near the wing tips.

Range

Crested Caracaras live year round in most of South and Central America with the exception of much of the rainforest in Brazil. Additionally, they can be found in parts of Mexico, and the United States. In the US, Florida, Texas, and Arizona are all states that this species can be seen in.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Crested Caracaras are extremely opportunistic feeders and will eat insects, reptiles, birds mammals, and carrion. They can often be seen in places with other carrion feeders such as vultures, gulls, and blackbirds. Crested Caracaras have been known to follow farm vehicles while they are clearing fields. They will pick off the insects and rodents as they flee from the equipment.

Where to Find this Bird

Crested Caracaras can be found soaring or perched in open areas with little ground cover. They will also sit on the ground so it pays to keep an eye out both high and low. Places with consistent concentrations of food such as agricultural fields or garbage dumps are excellent places to find Crested Caracaras.

Merlin

Merlin (Bill Thompson photo)
Identification

Merlins are very small members of the falcon family looking similar in size to a Mourning Dove. They have a blueish gray to black back, wings, and head, and a buffy to brown streaked underside. Merlins can differ in color based on region but always maintain a somewhat similar appearance. Most of the time they will have a white eye brow stripe.

Range

Merlins winter in Northern South America, Central America, Mexico, the Southeastern United States, and most of the Western United States. In spring they migrate north ending up in only the most Northern parts of the U.S. and much of Canada and Alaska. There is an area from the Northwestern part of the United States to the Southwestern part of Alaska where Merlins live year round. Some individuals stay all winter in Northern states as well.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Merlins primarily eat small birds such as waxwings, sparrows, and even shorebirds. In addition to birds, they also eat insects and rodents.

Where to Find this Bird

Merlins can be tricky to find as encountering one typically seems like a matter of luck. They can be found in wooded areas as well as in open areas where they will be surveying for food. Sometimes the easiest way to see them is in flight when they will be moving at high speeds.

Personal Experience: It seems like if I ever go out intentionally trying to find Merlins there aren’t any around. Each year I typically find one by chance while out birding. It seems that even though they aren’t necessarily supposed to winter in the northern U.S. that is when I see them most.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon (Betsy Matsubara Photo – CC by 2.0)
Identification

Peregrine Falcons are iconic birds with a dark back, wings, head, and neck. They have a light underside with dark barring and noticeable bright yellow legs. This species has interesting facial markings that some people refer to as “sideburns” and are essentially dark coloration coming down below the eye onto the cheeks of the bird.

Range

The Peregrine Falcon’s range in North America is complicated with a general pattern of wintering in the Southeastern United States and Mexico, summering in Northern Canada, and migrating throughout the rest of the continent. However, there are many places in the continental United States that Peregrine Falcons breed in during summer (such as along Lake Superior) and live year round (such as most of the Pacific Coast, and around the Great Lakes).

This species not only lives in North America, but every other continent as well with the exception of Antarctica.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Peregrine Falcons are the fastest fliers in the entire animal kingdom reaching normal speeds of around 70 miles per hour and a diving speed of around 200 miles per hour. They use this incredible speed to hunt medium sized birds such as doves and ducks, but they have been observed taking on an extremely wide array of different bird species. Peregrine Falcons will also eat fish, and mammals.

Where to Find this Bird

Peregrine Falcons have adapted well to human habitation and use skyscrapers as nesting sites. In more wild areas they will use cliffs as nest sites. Peregrine Falcons can be reliable sights in places where people have placed nest boxes specifically for the species to breed in. Often times these places have corresponding nest cams that can be viewed online.

Prairie Falcon (Rare)

Prairie Falcon (Charles Gates Photo – CC by 2.0)
Identification

Prairie Falcons have a light brown back, wings, and head with a white underside barred with brown. They have a different facial pattern than the Peregrine Falcon with a brown teardrop marking below the eye that contrasts the pure white of the cheeks and chin.

Range

Prairie Falcons are birds of the Western United States, living year round in most states west of Minnesota and Louisiana. They also live in parts of Mexico and Southwestern Canada year round. In winter, some individuals move east into more of the Great Plains states.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Prairie Falcons eat many different small mammals in addition to insects and birds. Like most falcons, they have quite a varied diet in terms of the bird species they eat.

Where to Find this Bird

True to their name, Prairie Falcons live in open spaces such as grasslands, fields, tundra, and farmland. They nest in places with bluffs and cliffs but are most easily seen hunting. Prairie Falcons are often on the move and cruise the open spaces looking for food. They can also sometimes be seen perched on branches or telephone poles.

Summary

Falcons are always entertaining to see, and knowing which ones to expect in your state can be a key part of correctly identifying the bird you are seeing.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

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