From delicious craft beer to scenic views of the ocean, Maine isn’t lacking in things to do. If you’re a birder who’ll be in the area – or live in the state – there are 5 falcons you can spot on your next trip.
I grew up around the ocean (albeit on the other end of the country), so I have a special love for birdwatching by the water. Maine has many gorgeous locations to scratch your birdwatching itch, whether it’s by boat or in one of its carefully protected marshes.
Fortunately, falcons are incredibly adaptable and regularly crop in a wide variety of environments. Some even show up in more urban settings like cities and parks!
Where can you spot these gorgeous birds and what are your odds of success? My guide below will share tips on spotting common and not-so-common species in their natural habitat.
- Species Name: Falco Sparverius
- Weight: 80 grams to 165 grams
- Length: 22 cm to 31 cm
- Wingspan: 51 to 61 cm
Birds of prey are a stunning sight no matter where they are, but they’re an especially romantic sight against the ocean horizon. The American Kestrels are colorful falcons and a species you won’t want to miss during your next birdwatching trip.
The American Kestrel has plumage that would make an artist sing – males boast a gray-blue head, white chest, and a cinnamon-brown body. The heavy barring and black spots along their wings and tail, an especially striking when they launch into flight.
Female American Kestrels look similar plumage-wise but with less blue around their head, a reddish tail, and a more flecked stomach. They’re larger than males, a common pattern with falcons.
Immature birds will have a similar head shape but with a whiter stomach and heavier streaks.
Do you plan on taking scenic walks through Maine’s beautiful landscape during spring or fall? These falcons usually show up during breeding season in the state, and then promptly migrate during the winter months.
Maine’s diverse forests, wetlands, and coastlines are quite inviting to the adaptable American Kestrel. These birds are comfortable in meadows, plains, agricultural fields, shrubby fields, and coastlines.
However, they tend to steer clear of very dense forests because they don’t get enough space to survey their environment.
Do you like visiting parks and refuges to get a taste of the wild? Acadia National Park is one of the most popular birding spots in Maine.
A major reason why these birds are so widespread in North America is their diet. American Kestrels generally live on insects like grasshoppers and beetles but will switch things up when need be.
These fierce falcons are also known to hunt small mammals, lizards, frogs, and bats. They like to perch on fence posts or lone trees in fields when scouting for prey.
Their small size is no match for their huge voice. These birds let out sharp and commanding calls in distinctive kee-kee-kee patterns.
Since American Kestrels don’t like making their own nests (another common pattern with falcons), you can attract them with nesting boxes. Also known as human-made nest boxes, these constructs are ideal tools for birders who want to study these falcons more closely.
- Species Name: Falco peregrinus
- Weight: 330 grams to 1,500 grams
- Length: 34 cm to 58 cm
- Wingspan: 29 cm to 47 cm
Who doesn’t want to see one of the most iconic bird species up close? The peregrine falcon’s incredible speed and bold plumage are practically staples in the birdwatching handbook.
The peregrine falcon has striking blue-black or gray-black coloration with a vivid white chest. They boast heavy barring along their stomach, wings, and tail – you can really see these stripes when they spread their wings against the sky.
While females and males have similar coloration, females are much bigger. They also look a little more bulky, so you may not need a side-by-side comparison to distinguish them.
The peregrine falcon is a big fan of Maine, occasionally showing up in the state year-round. However, they’re much more common birds during breeding season, so keep an eye out during late spring and early fall.
While this fierce bird loves mountain ranges and rocky cliffs, they can’t resist visiting coastlines. Maine has more than enough ocean to satisfy these birds, so keep an eye out for your next fishing trip or beach stroll.
If you enjoy long hikes, you can’t miss the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Stretching along Maine’s southern coast, this refuge sees plenty of peregrine falcons as well as several other bird species.
While many falcons target a variety of species, the peregrine falcon prefers to target birds as their primary food source. They regularly target gamefowl, waterfowl, songbirds, and seabirds.
If their main food supply runs low, they’ll temporarily switch over to bats and the occasional fish.
Peregrine falcons aren’t the most talkative birds, but they still let out a shrill hwuaaah-hwuaaah or kack-kack-kack.
One of my favorite parts of birdwatching is learning how these beautiful creatures were originally classified. The peregrine falcon’s scientific name, peregrinus, is a Latin word for ‘traveler’.
- Species Name: Falco columbarius
- Weight: 125 grams to 300 grams
- Length: 24 cm to 33 cm
- Wingspan: 58 cm to 66 cm
This slender falcon boasts a startling amount of variety. Not only do they thrive in many habitats, but they come in several different ‘morphs’ – different plumage colors related to their environment.
The merlin is a sleek and compact bird, boasting large eyes, narrow wings, and a tiny yellow beak. Their plumage changes quite a bit, but the list below has the most common types found in North America:
- Black Merlin – a dark gray-blue with a bright white stomach covered in streaks
- Prairie Merlin – a faded, dusty brown with a bright stomach and heavy flecking
- Pacific Northwest Merlin – a very dark blue (almost black) with a white stomach
Despite the name, Pacific Northwest Merlins also show up on the East Coast due to their preference for coastal regions. However, I recommend keeping an eye out for all types – their unpredictable range means you could be surprised with a rare morph!
With so many different morphs, it’s no mystery the merlin has a pretty impressive range. This falcon is comfortable with coastlines, forest edges, shrubby fields, marshes, and prairies.
While they’ll sometimes visit treetops, their prime habitat is an open space with plenty of room to fly. Expect to see these compact falcon species most commonly during spring and summer, though some will stick around all year long.
Similar to peregrine falcons, merlins also prefer to hunt other bird species. They’re an avid hunter of songbirds but occasionally will switch to insects, bats, or reptiles.
Their tendency to go after birds earned them the nickname ‘pigeon hawk‘.
I often hear this bird’s call described as a cackle, which is just perfect. These birds let out chatty and shrill kek-kek-keks that sometimes end in chattering trills.
Merlins are graceful birds that will switch up their hunting style to increase their chances of success. Sometimes they’ll dive-bomb, while other times they’ll glide low to the ground before striking their prey.
- Species Name: Falco rusticolus
- Weight: 1,350 to 2,100 grams
- Length: 48 to 65 cm
- Wingspan: 110 to 160 cm
What a sight! The massive gyrfalcon is the largest falcon and a brilliant reminder of nature’s majesty.
The gyrfalcon, similar to the merlin, comes in several distinct color morphs. However, they’re rather easy to spot due to their massive size, bulky feathers, and spiked tail.
As is standard, females are larger than males. Below are the most common morphs you should keep an eye out for:
- Brown – a cream body and speckled stomach with dark brown wings
- Black – a brownish-black body with a spotted stomach and spotted white head
- White – a white body covered in dark speckles along the back and wings
- Silver/gray – a silvery-gray body with a lighter stomach and darker gray wings
The white morphs and silver/gray morphs are most common in North America, but who knows? You may just glimpse an exception to the rule.
While these incredible falcons are a rarer sight in Maine, they sometimes crop up along the coastlines once it gets cold. Birders who enjoy hanging out at the beach will have a higher chance of spotting them.
Gyrfalcons generally prefer to stick to tundra environments, but will sometimes fly outside their range to distant coasts and islands. These cold-weather falcons occasionally build their nest on cliff faces but usually prefer to reuse other birds’ old nesting grounds.
The gyrfalcon is a powerful hunter that’s often hunting birds and various mammals, often larger species due to their size. They’ll eat a variety of animals such as shrews, mice, minks, rabbits, and even Arctic foxes.
The gyrfalcon has a diverse range of calls, many of them difficult to hear. Sometimes they’ll let out kak-kak-kak patterns, but other times let out sharp wails or low chuff-chuffs.
While the gyrfalcon isn’t quite as swift as the peregrine falcon, it can fly for much longer periods of time.
- Species Name: Caracara cheriway
- Weight: 952 grams to 1,348 grams
- Length: 50 cm to 65 cm
- Wingspan: 120 cm to 132 cm
Feel like learning about one of the rarer birds in Maine? This accidental species shows up only occasionally, but they’re so interesting I had to put them on the list!
These incredible birds have baffled bird enthusiasts and biologists alike. It has an appearance similar to a vulture or an eagle, but it’s still part of the falcon family.
The crested caracara is a larger falcon with a heavyset body and a very long neck. They have chocolate brown coloring, cream-white throats, and dark heads.
Its blunt orange face and silver-blue beak are a striking sight, along with its long yellow legs. Males and females look so similar, they’re nearly impossible to tell apart.
The crested caracara’s preferred habitats are anywhere it can stalk and run after prey. They usually prefer agricultural fields, deserts, and prairies, but occasionally visit forest edges.
However, they don’t enjoy dense forests since it makes it harder to spot prey.
While the crested caracara is not a vulture, they certainly have similar feeding habits! These large, dark-bodied falcons sometimes chase away scavengers from their kill so they can score an easy meal.
That said, they’re still fierce hunters in their own right and enjoy abundant food due to their adaptability. They’ll hunt down animals like lizards, fish, frogs, mice, turtles, and ground squirrels.
Do these falcons shriek, cackle, or chirp? None of the above – these odd birds let out long, dry trills.
Crested caracas are social birds who enjoy preening each other. This behavior is called allopreening, a habit that’s both for hygiene and social purposes.
Maine Is a Fantastic Starting Point for Spotting Falcons
While Maine only has a few regularly occurring falcons to its name, it’s a fantastic starting point. The state’s bounty of gorgeous coastline and diverse flora makes even unsuccessful birding trips a real treat.
Bird watchers who enjoy hiking along scenic trails won’t want to miss the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. If you prefer boating or biking, Acadia National Park is another fantastic falcon-watching spot.
You can also craft artificial nest boxes to attract American Kestrels. Just make sure to put them somewhere spacious so they can survey their environment or else they’ll fly elsewhere!
Want to spot more flocks of birds in the Pine Tree State? Read our guide on birds in Maine to learn about the state’s warblers, plovers, finches, and more.