Florida may be the state best known for sunny beaches and thriving nightlife, but it’s a surprisingly good spot for falcon watching! There are 5 falcon species you can spot here and they’re all absolutely gorgeous.
Falcons are huge fans of wide, open spaces where they can more easily survey prey. Florida not only has coastline and forests, it’s also home to prairies and scrubby fields.
If you need a little help spotting these stunning birds, my guide will clue you into the most common species (and one rare surprise!). You’ll learn the nuances of their appearance, their hunting habits, and even some fun facts!
- Species Name: Falco peregrinus
- Weight: 330 grams to 1,500 grams
- Length: 34 cm to 58 cm
- Wingspan: 29 cm to 47 cm
The iconic state of Florida is a fitting home for the iconic peregrine falcon. This fascinating bird is the fastest animal alive, which is just the beginning of their fun fact list!
While the peregrine falcon has a few different types of plumage, the most common variety you’ll see in Florida is the dark morph. This crow-sized falcon generally has blue-black or gray-black plumage with a bright white stomach covered in brown streaks.
Adult peregrines look similar across the board, but the females are significantly larger. Adult coloration differs greatly from juveniles, who have a brown head, brown ‘mask’, and a streaked body.
The peregrine falcon is quite a curious fellow, enjoying a wide variety of environments such as mountains, coastlines, and rivers. They usually show up in Florida during the winter but are sometimes seen during migration in the state’s southern portion.
Due to their natural flexibility and increasing human populations, you can occasionally spot them in urban areas. They’re the fastest bird around, though, so don’t be surprised if they disappear suddenly!
Peregrine falcons’ primary food source is usually other bird species, including (but not limited to) waterfowl, songbirds, and seabirds. However, they’re not opposed to eating the occasional bat or mouse.
A common misconception about these falcons is that they slash their prey with their talons. However, they actually curl their talons into fists to kill by impact, not cutting!
These birds have an alarming call – literally! They let out a long, sharp hweeh-hweeh-hweeh that sounds like a car alarm going off.
They also sometimes let out a chattering kek-kek-kek pattern.
Just how fast is the peregrine falcon? Turns out this incredible bird can dive at speeds of over 200 miles per hour (and possibly over 240!).
- Species Name: Falco Sparverius
- Weight: 80 grams to 165 grams
- Length: 22 cm to 31 cm
- Wingspan: 51 to 61 cm
A must-see bird on any birder’s list is the dashing American Kestrel. I make no bones about how much I adore this falcon’s spectacular plumage.
The male American Kestrel has vibrant plumage, boasting a gorgeous blue-gray head with cinnamon-brown wings. Both their wings and tail have black barring with white tips.
If you look closely, you’ll see their tiny yellow beak and intriguing black eye marks.
Female American Kestrels look similar to males but with less blue-gray and more brown. Female Kestrels are also larger, a common pattern with falcon species.
If you prefer to visit the Sunshine State during winter, you’ll have an easier time spotting these incredible birds. They usually show up once it gets cold, but they occasionally hang out all year long.
They boast some of the most flexible behavior of any falcon, showing up in a range of habitats such as grasslands, prairies, meadows, agricultural fields, and hot deserts. You’ll sometimes see them on the roadside perched on fence posts, surveying their territory with their keen eyesight.
If you’re looking for a place to spot American Kestrels, consider visiting the Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area. This gorgeous location is a haven for fans of freshwater and saltwater fishing, birdwatching, and nature photography.
Why do American Kestrels thrive in so many environments? Their diverse diet has something to do with it – these adaptable birds eat a variety of foods such as insects, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and small birds.
Some of their favorite insects to eat are moths, dragonflies, and cicadas.
This fierce bird has a sharp and lively call, letting out repetitive kee-kee-kees.
These birds have a surprisingly long lifespan in captivity, able to live up to 17 years. They normally only live for a few years in the wild.
- Species Name: Caracara cheriway
- Weight: 952 grams to 1,348 grams
- Length: 50 cm to 65 cm
- Wingspan: 120 cm to 132 cm
Is this a falcon or a vulture? The crested caracara is all falcon, but their unique physical features are quite striking for new birders!
The crested caracara is a hefty falcon with a dark brown body, white throat, and a brown cap on top of their head. Their unique orange face and silver-blue beak tip give them an unusual appearance in the falcon family.
Males and females look so similar that even biologists have a hard time telling them apart. While their colorful plumage is nearly identical and won’t give you any hints, females are slightly larger.
Expect to see these larger birds in the southern portion of the state year-round. Their striking appearance and unique hunting behavior make them easy to spot at a glance.
Like most falcons, crested caracaras greatly prefer wide, open spaces. They’re often in deserts, prairies, and agricultural fields rummaging around for their next meal.
However, these magnificent birds sometimes like to perch on fence posts or branches on lone trees to survey their environment.
The crested caracara is not one to turn down a meal, no matter the type! These hardy birds will eat a variety of small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and even fish.
Interestingly enough, their vulture-like appearance is a hint to their scavenging behavior. They’ll actually eat carrion on the roadside and sometimes chase off vultures who want a bite.
However, don’t underestimate their remarkable hunting skills! Their hunting techniques also require some room for running, so you won’t often find these efficient predators in forested areas.
The oddness comes full circle with their song (or lack thereof!). Their call is a rattling trill, quite unlike the shrieks or chatters from other falcons.
Think this vulture-like falcon is confusing enough? One of their most popular nicknames is the ‘Mexican eagle’.
- Species Name: Falco columbarius
- Weight: 125 grams to 300 grams
- Length: 24 cm to 33 cm
- Wingspan: 58 cm to 66 cm
Fans of spending their winter in Florida will have the most success on this list because the merlin also likes it cold!
The merlin is a fascinatingly diverse falcon that comes in many plumage varieties based on their environment. Generally, they’re on the smaller side with a sleek body and tiny beak.
Below is a brief list of the different appearances (or morphs) you can expect:
- Pacific Northwest Merlin – a dark blue (almost black) with a vivid white belly
- Black Merlin – a sleek gray-blue with a bright white stomach covered in streaks
- Coastal Forest Merlin – also a sleek gray-blue with a bright white stomach covered in streaks
- Prairie Merlin – a faded, dusty brown with a white stomach covered in brown streaking
The Prairie Merlin is common in Florida, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for the other varieties.
Merlins aren’t as common as American Kestrels in the state, but they most frequently show up during the winter. You may even spot them once fall starts rolling around.
Their range also changes depending on which variety of merlin you’re looking at. Prairie Merlins live up to their name by preferring open spaces and shrubby fields.
While falcons generally enjoy diverse diets, merlins prefer to hunt various bird species. However, they won’t be opposed to eating a few bats or insects if their usual food supply runs low.
These excellent fliers are swift enough to chase down even agile songbirds.
These majestic birds may have a magical-sounding name, but they have a rather jolly call. They often let out laughing-like notes of haw-haw-haw, though sometimes this call ends in a chattering trill.
Merlins may be adaptable, but they tend to pick a favorite species to hunt depending on the environment. For example, urban-adapted merlins often hunt house sparrows.
- Species Name: Falco tinnunculus
- Length: 32 cm to 39 cm
- Weight: 136 grams to 314 grams
- Wingspan: 65 cm to 82 cm
If you’re eager for a birding challenge, you’ll be in good hands with the Eurasian Kestrel. Looking similar to the American Kestrel, this accidental species has only been spotted occasionally in the state.
The Eurasian Kestrel looks very similar to the American Kestrel but with a few small differences. The Eurasian variety is a little larger and tends to have a paler head.
Females are a little larger than the males and have less gray-blue. Their heads are more streaked and their bodies have more bulk.
This powerful bird isn’t often seen in Florida, but you’ll have a higher chance of spotting it if you enjoy the wilderness. They’re fond of open areas like meadows, agricultural fields, and shrublands.
They’re also comfortable in marshlands, so you may see them in areas such as the Everglades National Park.
These types of falcons are fond of hunting smaller mammals such as mice, shrews, and voles. They’ll sometimes go after frogs or small birds, especially if they take roost on small islands.
If you’ve ever heard your teeth chattering in your ear when it gets cold, you know what the Eurasian Kestrel sounds like. They let out shrill chatters like chee-ee-ee-ee-ee.
The Eurasian Kestrel sometimes goes by the name ‘the common kestrel’ due to how widespread it is.
Florida Is an Idyllic State for Spotting Birds of Prey
While the state is better known for its cardinals and pelicans, it’s a fantastic state for seeing beautiful birds of prey up close. There’s something about glimpsing a fierce falcon in the wilderness that renews your appreciation for nature.
If you plan on visiting Florida during the winter – or already live in the state – you’ll have the most opportunities to see falcons. The merlin and American Kestrel show up frequently during the winter months.
If you want a year-round option, try to spot the crested caracara in the southern portion of the state. Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area and Everglades National Park are a few locations where you can see several of these falcon species.
What other birding opportunities can you find in Florida? Our guide on birds in Florida has a list of spoonbills, herons, ducks, and much more!