It’s been a while since I’ve been in Idaho, but I’ve never forgotten how beautiful it is. There are 6 falcon species you can spot in this state, whether within its rich forests or near its well-tended lakes.
Idaho hardly needs any introduction for the average birder, what with the state’s well-protected parks and diverse ecosystem. It’s home to the famed Yellowstone National Park (which I’ve been to twice!) as well as part of the Oregon Trail.
As such, birders who want to multitask on their family vacation or personal trip will be right at home here.
To help you out, I have a list of the most common and rare falcon species in Idaho. I’ll help you spot them by their plumage, feeding habits, and more!
- Species Name: Falco peregrinus
- Weight: 330 grams to 1,500 grams
- Length: 34 cm to 58 cm
- Wingspan: 29 cm to 47 cm
When it comes to iconic falcons, the peregrine falcon regularly tops many birders’ lists. Their incredible speed is only matched by their beautiful feathers.
The peregrine falcon has a rather striking coloration, wrapped in blue-black or gray-black with a bright white belly. Their stomach is covered in brown spots that match the barring on their wings.
With their yellow beak, yellow legs, and yellow-rimmed eyes, they have a subdued and incredibly bold appearance.
Males and females look very similar, but females are significantly bigger. This major difference in size is a common pattern among falcons.
Do you plan on visiting Idaho when the weather gets warmer? Peregrine falcons usually show up in the state during breeding season but sometimes linger all year long.
Idaho’s complex landscape is no match for the adaptable peregrine falcon. They’re comfortable in a variety of habitats such as coastlines, mountain ranges, valleys, deserts, and even tundra.
Need a starting point for your next birding trip? Yellowstone National Park has quite a few peregrine falcons, particularly from April through October.
These birds also enjoy human-made nest boxes. Also known as artificial nest boxes, you can attract them by placing the boxes in a wide, open area.
This fierce falcon usually hunts other bird species, particularly waterfowl, songbirds, and gamefowl. However, they won’t pass up the chance to hunt bats, mice, rats, or fish.
Peregrine falcons aren’t quite as chatty as other birds of prey, but will sometimes let out long, swooping hweeh-hweeh calls.
Peregrine falcons have a rather subtle courtship ritual. Males and females first start off by roosting next to one another, then gradually grooming and cuddling up.
- Species Name: Falco mexicanus
- Weight: 500 grams to 970 grams
- Length: 38 cm to 45 cm
- Wingspan: 102 to 107 cm
While not as well-known as the lightning-fast peregrine falcon, the prairie falcon is a fascinating bird in its own right. Idaho’s prairie-rich land not only helps their agricultural industry, it helps this bird hunt a wide variety of animals.
The prairie falcon is a subdued bird with a dusty gray-brown body and white stomach. They have heavy flecking along their throat and belly as well as two ‘mustache’ marks by their beak.
Like other falcon species, the females are significantly bigger than males. They also look a little more bulky, which can help you identify them at a distance.
If you’re thinking of visiting Southern Idaho, you’re in a great spot to glimpse these beautiful birds. They tend to be more common during the winter and summer months.
As per their name, the prairie falcon loves wide, open spaces where they can hunt more easily. Their most suitable habitat includes meadows, prairies, grasslands, agricultural fields, and deserts.
However, they sometimes show up in mountain ranges with less tree cover. If you’re up for a trip, the Camas National Wildlife Refuge has more than enough grasslands and meadows to spot these falcons.
The prairie falcon has an impressively diverse diet. While their most common prey are gamefowl and waterfowl, they also hunt squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, snakes, and lizards.
They’ll switch up their hunting style depending on their environment and the animal they’re chasing. Sometimes they swoop down from a perch, but other times will drift low to the ground.
Falcons are sometimes characterized as having fierce shrieks, but the prairie falcon goes in a totally different direction. Their call sounds like chattering laughter in a haw-haw-haw pattern.
These skilled hunters aren’t just fast when diving for prey, they’re also clever. Recent research has found they’ll sometimes mimic the flight patterns of their prey to sneak up on them better.
- Species Name: Falco rusticolus
- Weight: 1,350 to 2,100 grams
- Length: 48 to 65 cm
- Wingspan: 110 to 160 cm
While not a common sight in Idaho’s rich forests and prairies, the gyrfalcon is a breathtaking sight you can’t miss. They’re the largest falcons in the falcon family and look straight out of a fantasy novel!
The gyrfalcon’s widespread range means they have quite a few morphs – this term refers to variations in their plumage. Below is a brief list of different patterns and colors you can spot.
- Brown – a cream body and speckled stomach with chocolate brown wings
- Black – a brown-black body with a streaked stomach and white spotted head
- White – a white body covered in dark speckles along the back and wings
- Silver – a silvery-gray body with a lighter stomach and darker gray wings
The most common gyrfalcon morphs you’ll see in North America – and especially Idaho – are the white and silver.
The gyrfalcon is generally considered an accidental species, but they’re so adaptable they sometimes leave their usual range. These birds are comfortable in frigid environments like the tundra as well as farmlands and coastlines.
You have the best chances of glimpsing these birds during the winter, especially if you like hiking or camping. If you’re a fan of multiple species, keep an eye out for Idaho’s bountiful owl population.
A large falcon needs large game to match! These massive birds usually hunt waterfowl such as ducks and geese, but they sometimes go after hares and arctic foxes.
The gyrfalcon has a complex song that sounds both husky and sharp at the same time. They sometimes let out chuh-chuh patterns but will switch to sharp, swooping calls.
Are you a fan of heights? The gyrfalcon is a truly fearless bird and will tend to their babies on the edge of a cliff.
- Species Name: Falco Sparverius
- Weight: 80 grams to 165 grams
- Length: 22 cm to 31 cm
- Wingspan: 51 to 61 cm
What a dashing bird! The American Kestrel is one of the smallest falcons, but it stands out immediately with its painterly plumage.
The male American Kestrel is a handsome fellow, boasting gray-blue wings, an orange-brown body, and a flecked belly. Their heads are a patchy combination of white, black, and gray.
Females look similar to males but with more brown than blue-gray. They’re also larger and have slightly heavier barring on their wings.
Fortunately, these common falcons are easy to spot in Idaho and show up throughout the state all year long. They’re a fantastic pick for beginning birders who don’t want to camp out in the wilderness for hours.
American Kestrels are comfortable in deserts, plains, meadows, agricultural fields, and even urban environments. They like to perch on fence posts or a lone tree to survey their environment.
Check out the aptly named Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey if you want a prime spot for spotting American Kestrels (as well as a few other falcons on the list).
These colorful falcons are small enough to easily live on tiny prey like dragonflies, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, spiders, and cicadas. However, they’ll still eat small mammals and the occasional lizard when insects are scarce.
American Kestrels have a sharp and lively song, letting out repetitive kee-kee-kee notes as if they’re trying to get your attention.
Think butterflies would make a filling meal? American Kestrels are small enough to live comfortably on these insects – some even eat butterflies for 20% of their diet!
- Species Name: Caracara cheriway
- Weight: 952 grams to 1,348 grams
- Length: 50 cm to 65 cm
- Wingspan: 120 cm to 132 cm
Feeling up to a birding challenge? The crested caracara is an extremely rare sight in Idaho, but you won’t confuse them with any other falcon.
The crested caracara stumps both birders and conservationists with their strange appearance. These large, dark-bodied falcons appear almost vulture-like with their brown wings, white throats, and long legs.
Alongside their dark heads, their most notable trait is their orange face and silver-blue tipped beak.
Males and females look very similar to each other without much difference in size. While females are slightly bigger, you probably won’t notice this even if they’re side-by-side.
These birds much prefer open spaces where they can comfortably stalk or chase after prey. You have a higher chance of spotting these birds in prairies, grasslands, and agricultural fields.
These complex hunters are just as likely to chase after prey as they are to scavenge for food. In fact, they often chase away vultures from their kill so they can get a free meal!
Crested caracara’s primary food sources are small mammals and lizards.
The crested caracara isn’t done messing with expectations. Instead of a shriek or series of chirps, they’ll let out long, chattering trills and rattles.
The crested caracara’s long legs aren’t just for show – these feisty falcons sometimes just drop to the ground and walk up to their prey.
- Species Name: Falco columbarius
- Weight: 125 grams to 300 grams
- Length: 24 cm to 33 cm
- Wingspan: 58 cm to 66 cm
Idaho winters are pretty intense, but the merlin has a way of brightening up the landscape. These falcons usually show up when it gets cold, so make sure to bundle up before trying to spot this bird!
The merlin also has several morphs, so spotting them can be tricky if you’re not familiar with their different plumage. Below is a brief list of the unique coloration they can have:
- Prairie Merlin – a dusty brown with a bright stomach spotted with heavy flecks
- Black Merlin – a dark gray-blue with a bright white stomach covered in streaks
- Pacific Northwest Merlin – a very dark blue (almost black) and a bold white stomach
A commonality between all the merlins is their tiny yellow beak, large eyes, and sleek frame.
You’re most likely to see these birds during the winter, but they sometimes crop up during the warmer months. Their adaptability in multiple environments increases your chances of spotting them, no matter what kind of birder you are.
Do you like to go on long walks or hiking excursions? Merlins are quite comfortable in plains, prairies, and meadows.
If you prefer to stick to cities and towns, merlins sometimes visit urban areas.
Merlins generally prefer to hunt other bird species, particularly songbirds and waterfowl. If they move to urban environments, they frequently go after house sparrows and pigeons.
These birds have long, sharp calls that sound like chee-chee-chee.
Immense speed is even better when matched with accuracy. Merlins are so swift and agile, they’re able to catch their prey in mid-air most of the time.
Idaho Is One of the Best Locations for Glimpsing Falcons
With its majestic forests and carefully protected national parks, Idaho is one of the best locations for birdwatching. It’s particularly good for spotting falcons since it offers several environments for them to thrive.
American Kestrels, peregrine falcons, and prairie falcons are some of the easier species to spot. However, you have a higher chance of seeing merlins and gyrfalcons during the winter.
If you’re lucky, you may just spot a crested caracara! My recommended starting points for falcon watching are Yellowstone National Park, Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey, and Camas National Wildlife Refuge.
What other birds does Idaho have? Check out our guide on birds in Idaho to learn about warblers, thrushes, quails, and more!