Falcons of Indiana (5 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 Indiana with some being findable on an annual basis, and others that are extremely rare for the state. Here are the five species of falcons that can be found in Indiana.

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 as well as 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 in addition to perched on dead trees and other structures in areas with few trees. Other places Kestrels can be found are urban parks, pastures, and farm fields.

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” but is 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.

Gyrfalcon (Rare)

Gyrfalcon (dfaulder Photo – CC by 2.0)
Identification

Gyrfalcons come in two different color morphs. Living in the high arctic is the white morph which essentially looks like someone took the look of a Snowy Owl and put it on a large falcon. They are pure white with black markings on their wings. The gray morph typically lives farther south and has a gray back and head with dark barring on the underside. They have dark teardrop markings underneath the eye.

Range

Gyrfalcons breed in the arctic with some migrating into the Northern United States to spend the winter. There is a population that lives in mid to Northern Canada and Alaska that most likely stay in the same area year round.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Gyrfalcons feed mostly on medium sized birds such as ptarmigans and seabirds. They will also eat mammals such as lemmings and typically dive onto prey from above.

Where to Find this Bird

Gyrfalcons are most typically found in the continental United States in winter. They like open spaces such as tundras and coast lines where they can survey for prey.

In Northern Midwestern states, this species is quite rare and seems to show up even less often than it used to. The cities of Duluth and Superior have traditionally been a places these birds turn up, but it has been a few years since a reliable individual was reported in either city. In Indiana, the chances of finding a Gyrfalcon are slim but it’s not impossible, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for this species, especially in winter.

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 year round. 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, open fields, tundra, and farmland. They nest in places with bluffs and cliffs but often 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 the 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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