The tiny state of Delaware is full of surprises. Not only does it have plenty of fishing and boating opportunities for active birders, there are 3 falcons you can glimpse!
While that may not sound like much, these birds are so striking they may just be the highlight of your year. Falcons are widely beloved for their brilliant plumage, incredible speed, and hunting abilities.
In fact, these types of birds stand out even more due to their relative scarcity to common waterfowl and songbirds. There’s a popular pair of peregrine falcons who regularly take up residence in Wilmington!
If you’re interested in expanding your bird-watching repertoire, you won’t want to miss this brief guide. I’ll break down the 3 falcons in Delaware by their appearance, habits, and interesting facts.
- Species Name: Falco Sparverius
- Weight: 80 grams to 165 grams
- Length: 22 cm to 31 cm
- Wingspan: 51 to 61 cm
The American Kestrel has to be one of the most jaw-dropping birds in the bird world (and that’s saying something!). Their sleek form and brilliant plumage never fail to turn heads.
The male American Kestrel is a showstopper with his splashy and patchy plumage. He has a blue-gray head and matching wings with a cinnamon-brown body.
With his heavily barred wings and tail, he cuts a striking figure every time he snaps open his wings. Interestingly enough, his yellow beak is quite small and dainty compared to other raptors.
The female American Kestrel has a similar appearance but with more brown than blue-gray. She’s also significantly larger (a consistent pattern with falcons).
These colorful falcons are pretty easy to spot in Delaware – they show up in the state year-round and are comfortable in a wide variety of environments.
You’re just as likely to see an American Kestrel in meadows and grasslands as you are to see them in parks. They also have a habit of sitting on tall perches such as fence posts or power lines.
If you prefer to stick to urban environments, you may also spot a few finches.
These fierce falcons are incredibly opportunistic, able to eat just about anything they get their talons on. Their diet includes insects, snakes, bats, small mammals, and frogs.
They’ll also hunt small bird species and even scorpions! When in pursuit of prey, American Kestrels will sometimes hover in mid-air to survey the land below.
While the American Kestrel has a wide range of calls, they’re best known for their chittering kee-kee-kee song.
Female American Kestrels are quite territorial, often the first to arrive to new grounds during migration season. They vastly prefer wide, open spaces, leaving the males to make do with more overgrown areas.
- Species Name: Falco columbarius
- Weight: 125 grams to 300 grams
- Length: 24 cm to 33 cm
- Wingspan: 58 cm to 66 cm
These sleek and elegant falcons can be a little tricky to spot, but they show up all across Delaware. I’ll give you a few tips to increase your chances of finding one!
One reason why this compact falcon is a little hard to find is due to their coloration. Their flexibility in different environments has caused several morphs (a term referring to different plumage colors).
- Prairie Merlin – a deep, dusty brown with a bright stomach with heavy flecks
- Black Merlin – a sleek, dark gray-blue with a bright white stomach covered in streaks
- Coastal Forest Merlin – also a sleek, dark gray-blue with a bright white stomach covered in streaks
- Pacific Northwest Merlin – a very dark blue (almost black) with a bright white stomach
You’re most likely to see the Black, Coastal Forest, and Pacific Northwest Merlins in Delaware. One more tip: female merlins tend to be lighter in color as well as larger.
Another reason why merlins can be a challenge for birders is their varied range. While they’re sometimes more common during winter in Delaware, at other times they’re more common during breeding season.
Merlins are just as comfortable in parks and grasslands as they are in heavily forested areas. Funnily enough, this flexibility can make them a little easier to spot!
If you need a starting point, check out the Cape Henlopen State Park. Merlins (as well as American Kestrels) are regularly spotted here diving for prey.
Merlins are able to adapt to different environments more easily thanks to their rich and complex diet. They’ll eat small mammals, insects, bats, lizards, frogs, and various bird species.
These birds in flight move powerfully and swiftly, rarely pausing to hover. As such, you may spot one just based on their swift flight patterns.
The merlin has a high-pitched and chattering call. They’ll let out swooping notes that end in a rapid-fire chi-chi-chi-chi-chi.
Songbirds aren’t the only species that demonstrate acrobatic flight! These incredible raptors have a dynamic courtship ritual that involves powerful flight patterns, frequently diving and rolling from side to side in mid-air.
- Species Name: Falco peregrinus
- Weight: 330 grams to 1,500 grams
- Length: 34 cm to 58 cm
- Wingspan: 29 cm to 47 cm
Last but certainly not least, we have the incredibly fast peregrine falcon. This astonishing bird is capable of hitting 200 miles per hour, which is just the tip of the iceberg!
The male peregrine falcon has a dark blue-black or brown-black head and body. Their bright white stomach is heavily mottled with brown streaks and contrasts beautifully with their bright yellow legs.
Females look similar to males but are significantly larger and more bulky. Immature birds are browner than adults with the same pale chest.
These widespread raptors show up year-round in the state of Delaware. While they favor mountains and coastal areas, they’ll even show up in cities!
If you’re feeling daring, consider buying supplies to make human-made nest boxes. Since falcons usually don’t like to make their own nests, you may entice these species of falcon to take roost.
Here’s a tip: urban nest sites for peregrines are more successful when placed near bodies of water.
The peregrine falcon frequently hunts various bird species. They often target waterfowl, songbirds, pigeons, and doves – however, they’ll sometimes go after owls.
Since they’re the fastest bird around, they can have a hunting success rate of up to 83%. This fierce bird is even tough enough to fight off larger birds of prey!
Peregrine falcons prefer a less is more approach when it comes to their call. They tend to call out sparsely, letting out hweeeh-hweeeh or cack-cack-cack patterns.
These incredible birds are even more adaptable than we realized. Their black head markings aren’t just pretty – recent studies have found they protect their eyes from sun glare!
Delaware Has a Few Surprises up Its Sleeve for Falcon Fans
When you don’t have much time for birding or are low on energy, sometimes it’s a blessing to only have a few birds to choose from. Delaware has a few surprises up its sleeve with its small yet regularly occurring falcon species.
Peregrine falcons and American Kestrels are pretty easy to spot, but merlins will be more of a challenge. A great place to spot merlins is the Cape Henlopen State Park, though you may glimpse some during scenic nature walks.
What other flocks of birds can you spot in Delaware? Our guide on birds in Delaware will fill you in on grackles, cardinals, woodpeckers, and so much more.