With falcons so fond of wide, open spaces, is it any wonder why they love living in Arizona? The Grand Canyon state is home to 7 falcon species for you to spot on your next birding trip.
This state is filled with broad expanses such as deserts, plains, and even a few grasslands. These environments allow falcons to easily survey the landscape for danger and hunting opportunities.
Arizona is also a go-to for hiking and scenic vacations, so multitasking birders will be right at home here.
My guide will share the appearances, hunting habits, and preferred habitats of 7 species of falcons. You’ll also learn some fun facts along the way!
- Species Name: Falco Sparverius
- Weight: 80 grams to 165 grams
- Length: 22 cm to 31 cm
- Wingspan: 51 to 61 cm
While bald eagles are an iconic bird of prey species in America, the American kestrel deserves a runner-up. These fierce birds show a lot of power and speed for such a small frame!
The American kestrel never fails to amaze me with their brilliant plumage. They almost look like an abstract painting with their merle wings, soft brown bodies, and barred black and white tails.
They have a patchy black and white face with a tiny beak. Interestingly, their small size and round, blue-gray head makes them look like a bulky sparrow.
Female American kestrels look similar but with more brown coloration instead of blue. They’re also significantly larger than males and have thicker barring.
These birds are one of the most common falcons in North America and show up throughout the state year-round. They’re even easier to find during spring and fall.
As long as the environment is flat enough to see into the distance, you’ll find the American kestrel. They love a wide range of flat areas such as meadows, plains, agricultural fields, and deserts.
A common sight for tourists passing through is that of these birds sitting on fence posts and searching for their next hunting opportunity.
American kestrels will eat just about anything they can get their claws on. They’ll hunt insects, mice, lizards, voles, and many small birds.
They’re such skillful hunters, they’re able to hunt in mid-air or on the ground. If you ever want to attract American kestrels, consider building artificial nest boxes somewhere spacious – they don’t like to build their own nests!
These magnificent birds almost sound like they’re trying to get your attention. Expect to hear sharp, repetitive chee-chee-cheeeee notes.
These birds are a firm advocate for support systems when teaching hunting techniques. They prefer to show their young how to hunt in family groups.
- Species Name: Falco mexicanus
- Weight: 500 grams to 970 grams
- Length: 38 cm to 45 cm
- Wingspan: 102 to 107 cm
These larger raptors are particularly iconic in Arizona and you can spot that in the name – these birds love roaming the open prairie.
Prairie falcons have more subdued plumage than other members of the family so they can better blend into their environment. They have gray-brown plumage with a streaked white stomach and white streaks along their heads.
Female prairie falcons are nearly twice as large as males and (even hunt larger prey as a result).
The flatter the environment, the more likely you’ll spot these majestic birds. They show up in the state year-round, particularly in dry areas like prairies, deserts, and fields.
However, they’re not opposed to visiting grasslands and occasionally tundra!
These birds usually hunt small birds and various small mammal species. Ground squirrels, snakes, and lizards are just a few items on the menu.
Their varied diet includes smaller bird species, all of which they’re able to catch in mid-flight. These expert hunters often go after sparrows, doves, and pigeons.
Prairie falcons have a rather squawky and chattery call, letting out laughter-esque notes like haw-haw-haw and heh-heh-heh.
These assertive birds are capable hunters but are not above stealing food from other raptors when their food supply runs low.
- Species Name: Falco peregrinus
- Weight: 330 grams to 1,500 grams
- Length: 34 cm to 58 cm
- Wingspan: 29 cm to 47 cm
This iconic bird species is instantly recognizable for their patterned plumage and incredible speed. However, there’s much more to discover with the peregrine falcon!
This beautiful bird has a dark gray-brown body along their wings and back, but a bright white stomach. They have heavy barring along their chest and belly and a bold yellow beak.
You won’t need binoculars to see the bright yellow skin of their legs. While both sexes look similar, females are significantly larger than males.
Peregrine falcons usually show up in Arizona all year long. The western portion of the state usually sees them during breeding season.
Although they’re not opposed to open spaces, peregrine falcons usually prefer mountain ranges and coastlines. Fortunately, roughly half of Arizona is home to mountains and plenty of plateaus.
These incredible birds are masters of speed, usually hunting smaller bird species like jays, starlings, and pigeons. They’ll also sometimes hunt fish, rodents, and various bat species.
While peregrine falcons aren’t the chattiest of falcons, they still have a distinctive call of long, swooping notes.
Do peregrine falcons slash or stab their prey with their sharp talons? Interestingly enough, observations on their hunting behavior reveal they actually fold their feet into a ‘fist’ to kill by impact.
- Species Name: Falco columbarius
- Weight: 125 grams to 300 grams
- Length: 24 cm to 33 cm
- Wingspan: 58 cm to 66 cm
This elegant falcon is a little rarer in the state, usually showing up during the winter months. They’re well worth the investment, boasting some seriously lovely plumage that comes in several varieties.
The merlin is a falcon with several subspecies, making it tricky to spot unless you match the bird to its environment. Below are a few differences you should keep in mind.
- Black Merlin – a sleek, dark gray-blue with a bright white stomach covered in streaks
- Prairie Merlin – a deep, dusty brown with a bright stomach with heavy flecks
- Pacific Northwest Merlin – a very dark blue (almost black) with a bright white stomach
All of these birds have very small, hooked beaks and large eyes. Female merlins tend to be a little lighter and larger than males.
You’re most likely to see Prairie Merlins in Arizona, but you may glimpse other species from time to time.
Merlins are a diverse falcon species, comfortable in a variety of habitats. In Arizona, you’re most likely to find these birds in spacious areas like plains, parks, meadows, and deserts.
Merlins generally hunt smaller birds such as sparrows and larks. When their main food supply runs low, they’ll switch to lizards, moths, and bats.
These effective hunters are commonly seen in falconry and can be trained to hunt small birds on command.
These birds let out a long, sharp call that ends in chattering chee-chee-chee patterns.
Just how significant is this falcon’s hunting prowess? The merlin’s tendency to chase after flocks of pigeons has earned it the nickname ‘pigeon hawk’.
- Species Name: Falco rusticolus
- Weight: 1,350 to 2,100 grams
- Length: 48 to 65 cm
- Wingspan: 110 to 160 cm
This massive falcon species is the largest in the family. While it only occasionally shows up in the state, it’s a dashing sight worth keeping an eye out for.
This hefty bird has a pretty diverse and striking appearance due to its widespread range. Below are a few variations to keep in mind:
- Black – a brown-black body with a spotted stomach and white spotted head
- Brown – a cream body and speckled stomach with dark brown wings
- White – a white body covered in dark speckles along the back and wings
- Silver – a silvery body with a lighter stomach and darker gray wings
The gyrfalcon is most likely to show up in the state during the winter months. While it’s pretty rare, their large size and bright stomachs will stand out instantly.
These fascinating birds are most fond of environments like coastal areas or high cliffs. As such, they’ll likely show up in Arizona around the most mountainous areas.
A large falcon needs similarly sized prey. This formidable bird tends to hunt larger mammals like hares and foxes, though they’ll sometimes seek out squirrels and songbirds.
The gyrfalcon call is both husky and sharp, composed of chattering chuh-chuh-chuh notes and swooping calls.
Alongside impressive speed, these awe-inspiring falcons use ‘surprise and flush’ tactics to scare their prey out into the open.
- Species Name: Falco femoralis
- Weight: 208 grams to 460 grams
- Length: 30 cm to 40 cm
- Wingspan: 90 cm
This compact falcon used to be a common sight in the state of Arizona, but is now one of the rarest birds due to habitat loss. Thankfully, the hard work of conservationists is ensuring these falcons are able to stick around.
This beautiful bird has a sleek body with chocolate brown plumage, a white throat, and white streaks along the sides of their head. Their yellow beak and cinnamon-brown rump give them a warm appearance overall.
Males and females look similar in terms of coloration – as is typical with falcons, the females are much larger.
These agile hunters may be a rare sight, but don’t give up hope! You’re most likely to find them in the southeastern portion of the state year-round.
Aplomado falcons are usually the raptors in grasslands, hence why they’re not seen often in the prairie-rich state of Arizona. However, they still show up in shrubby and overgrown areas.
These falcons eat a variety of food such as insects, small mammals, and small birds. Similar to the gyrfalcon, they’ll also swoop low to the ground to spook prey animals out into the open.
While most falcons have loud and distinctive calls, the aplomado falcon is more subtle. They let out short, muffled chirps with few patterns.
The aplomado falcon and the maned wolf may have a hunting relationship. The bird has been shown to follow maned wolves around so they can catch small birds spooked by their footsteps.
- Species Name: Caracara cheriway
- Weight: 952 grams to 1,348 grams
- Length: 50 cm to 65 cm
- Wingspan: 120 cm to 132 cm
What better way to wrap up this list than with one of the most unique-looking falcons in the world? The crested caracara looks more similar to a vulture than it does a merlin or Eurasian hobby.
The crested caracara is second only to the gyrfalcon in size, displaying a unique beak shape that’s broad and colorful. They have a bold orange face with a dark brown body and white throat.
The tips of their beaks are silvery-blue, almost like they sipped from a bucket of paint.
These incredible raptors are also rare in Arizona, but their distinctive appearance makes them easy to spot. They’re most likely to show up in the far southern portion of the state, particularly along the ground where they search for food.
Their ideal habitat is a wide, open area (and they’re not shy around people, either).
These falcons are keen hunters of various reptiles like lizards and snakes. They’ll also eat small mammals, frogs, and insects.
You’ll often see them digging along the ground for prey, though they’ll sometimes scavenge if they run low on their primary food source.
Do you ever drum your nails against a hard surface when you’re agitated? The crested caracara has a thrumming call of low, repetitive chitters that sound similar.
The crested caracara is a big fan of crowds – these birds sometimes show up in large groups of up to eighty birds.
Arizona Is Heaven for Fans of Falcon Species
Arizona is a fantastic state to glimpse these falcon species. Not only do you have plenty of natural habitat to enjoy at your leisure, but there are plenty of tourist spots to keep the whole family entertained.
Most falcons on this list can be seen year-round, though you’ll have to visit in winter to glimpse the merlin or gyrfalcon. If you need a starting place for birding spots, check out Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to see the iconic peregrine falcon.
Some falcons also like to invite their friends — the crested caracara is known for hanging out with numerous falcons while eating.
What other birds can you see in Arizona while you’re visiting? Our guide on birds in Arizona has hummingbirds, kingfishers, and more!