Alabama’s smooth landscapes and rich farming industry are some of their best-known features, but did you know they also have a few falcons? You can spot 5 species if you’re extra dedicated!
What makes falcons attracted to The Heart of Dixie? Well, with so much access to wide and spacious areas, falcons can more easily spot prey or predators.
This list will have some common and not-so-common species to give you a challenge. With a little patience and good timing, you’ll glimpse some of the most beautiful birds in the country.
- Species Name: Falco Sparverius
- Weight: 80 grams to 165 grams
- Length: 22 cm to 31 cm
- Wingspan: 51 to 61 cm
It’s no surprise why the American Kestrel tends to top so many lists of falcons in the United States. These hardy little birds are incredibly adaptable and comfortable in urban and natural environments.
The male American Kestrel is a handsome bird, boasting vibrant colors with his rusty brown back, blue wings, and white chest. He has dark facial markings and a tiny yellow beak that almost looks sparrow-like.
The female American Kestrel is just as dashing, boasting a cinnamon brown and cream body with a little blue on her head. If you look closely, you may spot a little blue along her wingtips, too.
The American Kestrel is a more common sight during the Alabaman winter months, though a few will linger year-round. If you prefer warmer weather, try to spot them during the middle of summer.
American Kestrels are quite comfortable in a variety of environments that range from meadows, grasslands, agricultural fields, forest edges, and farmland. They’ll also sometimes visit urban environments (provided they’re not too crowded).
One of their most iconic ways of perching is sitting on a lone fence post or the branch of a thin tree. These colorful falcons are very keen on getting the best view so they can nab another meal.
Since American Kestrels are so small, their diet reflects this by revolving around small mammals, insects, and lizards. However, they’ll sometimes hunt even smaller songbirds and the occasional frog.
Interestingly enough, the American Kestrel will sometimes eat scorpions. With their incredible speed and sharp eye, even the insect’s poisonous stinger is no match.
These small falcons have a sharp and excitable call, sometimes letting out patterns of kee-kee-kee or klee-klee. Combined with their agile flight patterns, they’re a wonder to behold in person.
When an American Kestrel is unable to find a perch, they’ll simply hover over a given area until they find food or a place to rest. They’re fascinating to watch since their heads will remain completely still while their bodies flap and flutter about.
- Species Name: Falco peregrinus
- Weight: 330 grams to 1,500 grams
- Length: 34 cm to 58 cm
- Wingspan: 29 cm to 47 cm
Who wouldn’t want to glimpse one of the most iconic bird species around? The peregrine falcon is pretty easy to spot in Alabama so long as you choose the right spot and the ideal season.
This stocky falcon has quite a dashing appearance with its dark gray wings, bold white chest, and barred coloration. Their bold yellow legs, yellow beak, and yellow-rimmed eyes are easy to spot at a distance.
A common feature with falcons is how males and females tend to look similar with one major exception: size. Female peregrine falcons are significantly larger and bulkier than males.
Peregrine falcons are most common in the southern portion of Alabama during winter, though you’ll occasionally see them in the north once spring rolls around.
You’re more likely to find peregrine falcons in their favorite environments: rocky cliffs and along rivers. However, they sometimes visit urban areas, so city-bound birders may still get a glimpse!
If you need a starting point for spotting these majestic birds, consider visiting the scenic Pine Beach Trail. This lovely location regularly sees peregrine falcons as well as warblers, ducks, and eagles.
While some falcons have extremely varied diets, the peregrine falcon generally prefers to hunt various bird species. The most common birds they target are ptarmigans, larks, and pigeons.
However, they will occasionally eat bats and rodents if the local bird supply gets low.
Bird enthusiasts will be able to identify this falcon easily. Peregrine falcons have an interesting call, switching between sharp eeep-eeeps and a rough kak-kak.
The peregrine falcon is well known for being the fastest bird alive, but did you know they also have a lot of stamina? Some populations are known to travel 20,000 miles every year!
- Species Name: Falco columbarius
- Weight: 125 grams to 300 grams
- Length: 24 cm to 33 cm
- Wingspan: 58 cm to 66 cm
When you truly want a birdwatching challenge, look no further than the merlin. This fascinating falcon has a variety of colors depending on where it likes to settle.
The merlin is a sleek and compact falcon, boasting rather large dark eyes and a tiny, curved beak. Below are a few of its most common colorations so you don’t overlook them on accident:
- Black Merlin – a deep gray-blue with a bright white stomach coated in streaks
- Prairie Merlin – a soft brown with a bright stomach spotted with heavy flecks
- Pacific Northwest Merlin – a dark blue (almost black) with a white stomach
The Prairie Merlin is a little more common in Alabama, but you may spot the other ones from time to time.
If you’re a fan of cold weather, you’re in luck! The merlin is most common during fall and winter in Alabama, though some may still migrate during spring and summer.
Merlins are quite adaptable depending on the environment, so you could find this bird scouting open plains or hanging out near bodies of water. Some merlins may even visit urban areas.
Similar to peregrine falcons, the merlin often hunts different bird species. However, their adaptability also extends to their diet – they sometimes hunt lizards and insects.
The merlin may have a mystical-sounding name, but its call is decidedly more chatty. It almost sounds like it’s laughing with its haw-haw-haaaw and eee-eee-eee patterns.
Merlins are very clever birds, swooping in low to the ground to startle their prey out into the open.
- Species Name: Caracara cheriway
- Weight: 952 grams to 1,348 grams
- Length: 50 cm to 65 cm
- Wingspan: 120 cm to 132 cm
Feeling lucky? You may just spot one of the most quirky falcon species – the crested caracara.
This falcon looks more similar to a vulture or an eagle than to members of its own bird family. They’re large birds with chocolate brown bodies, white necks, and orange faces.
One of their most beautiful features are their silvery-blue beak tips and brown head caps. I think they’re one of the most striking species of falcons.
Males and females look so similar to each other, that even biologists get them confused.
This falcon species is considered accidental in Alabama, but keep a close eye on prairies and meadows. They’re not fond of forested or mountainous areas because it’s harder to chase down their prey.
The crested caracara is not a picky eater. In fact, their similarities to vultures are even more obvious – they’re often found eating carrion by the roadside.
Don’t underestimate their hunting abilities, though! These birds will still hunt small mammals, fish, and snakes when there are no easy meals around.
The strangeness comes full circle with the crested caracara’s guttural call. These fierce falcons let out hoarse trills or very short, hoarse kek-kek-keks.
These stocky birds are the very definition of large and in charge. Some birds can hit two pounds – compare that to an American Kestrel, which can way as much as a roll of pennies.
- Species Name: Falco mexicanus
- Weight: 500 grams to 970 grams
- Length: 38 cm to 45 cm
- Wingspan: 102 to 107 cm
Last but not least, we have another accidental species – the prairie falcon. This dusky and unassuming bird is easy to miss unless you know what to look for.
The prairie falcon blends easily into its surroundings with its dusty brown coat. They’re covered in white speckles and have bright yellow legs.
Females are nearly twice as large as their male counterparts.
As their name implies, this bird of prey prefers flat, open areas over forests or mountains. They’re most comfortable in grasslands and agricultural fields, of which Alabama has plenty.
While they’re very rare in the state, consider keeping an eye out if you’re traveling or in a spacious area.
These falcons have a varied diet, switching between small mammals, various bird species, and reptiles. They’ll also eat the occasional frog if they’re in a wetter environment.
This bird has a beautiful call that sounds like the great outdoors in a nutshell. Prairie falcons often let out long, slow calls with a kreee-kreee-kreee pattern.
While prairie falcons will eat many different types of animal, they’re known to pick a favorite and focus on them. For example, a prairie falcon near a river may focus on frogs and lizards until they run low on their supply.
Whether you’re visiting Alabama or live in the state, it’s worth putting in the effort to spot these incredible birds. Their bold plumage looks especially striking against the state’s plains, lakes, and swamps.
A few falcon species regularly show up in the state during winter or migration, while a few are rare enough to be considered accidental. If you’re looking for a weekend spot to hang out and snap photos, check out the Pine Beach Trail when you have the time.
What other gorgeous bird species can you spot in Alabama? Our guide for birds in Alabama will show you how to spot finches, woodpeckers, and more!