In this article we’ll cover a few species of North American falcons, more specifically the falcons in Mississippi. There are only 5 types of falcons in the North America, out of these 5 there are 3 species in the state of Mississippi. Those species are the American Kestrel, the Peregrine Falcon, and the Merlin.
Falcons are raptors that have long, pointed wings and a notched beak. They are well equipped for speed and hunting from the air. Their preferred method of hunting is surprising their prey with an above attack, where they can reach very high speeds as they dive. They are typically more compact and smaller than other birds of prey. But don’t let their size fool you, they are fierce hunters.
Let’s take a quick look at some pictures and learn a little about the 3 different types of falcons you may come across in Mississippi!
The Falcons of Mississippi
1. American Kestrel
Scientific name: Falco sparverius
Length: 8.7-12.2 in
Weight: 2.8-5.8 oz
Wingspan: 20.1-24.0 in
The American Kestrel is extremely widespread throughout North America, hence where it gets its name from. It has year-round populations throughout the United States, and Mississippi is no different. They have a small population of non-breeding birds on the western side of the state that migrates from Canada and the Northern United States during the winter.
It’s the smallest of falcons in Mississippi, and is also one of the most colorful of the American raptors. The males have gorgeous slate-blue heads and wings that contrast with the rusty-red back and tail, and the females have the same warm red on their wings, back, and tail.
They’re ferocious birds who will defend their territory with swooping and speed, but they’re still often prey for larger raptors such as Red-Tailed and Cooper’s Hawks. Thanks to this constant competition and threat, they’ve evolved, like most falcons, to be extremely quick and agile in the air. They’ve also been known to hide surplus kills in grass clumps, tree roots, bushes, fence posts, tree limbs, and cavities in order to hide it from potential thieves.
Scientific name: Falco columbarius
Length: 9.4-11.8 in
Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
Merlins are small and fierce falcons that have both migratory and non-breeding populations within the state, meaning it’s easiest to see these birds in the southern parts of Mississippi during the winter. They’re powerful fliers, and some migrate all the way up into Alaska! They’re affectionately called “lady hawks” in the region, and in medieval times, they were the falcon of choice for noblewomen.
Merlin populations within the state are on the rise, thanks to a federal ban on using DDT pesticides, and now they can be seen prevalently around towns and cities as well as their usual open fields. If you see a flock of foraging birds, especially shorebirds, suddenly burst into flight, a Merlin or another falcon may be the culprit. They rely on surprise attacks from above to dive down and retrieve their prey.
3. Peregrine Falcon
Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
Length: 14.2-19.3 in
Weight: 18.7-56.4 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 in
Peregrine Falcons are extremely common throughout North America, and they do have a small non-breeding population in the southern part of Mississippi, making winter the easiest time to spot them. However, Mississippi is also a fantastic state to get to watch the migrations of these falcons, as they can often be seen wheeling overhead in large groups.
This bird is commonly trained for hunting due to its extreme speed and agility, reaching speeds up to 69 miles per hour in direct pursuit of prey – but that still isn’t their max speed. During its truly spectacular hunting stoop, a Peregrine Falcon travels about a kilometer into the air before diving back down and reaching speeds of over 200 miles per hour, making them the fastest animals on the planet!
This is one of the most widespread birds in the world, and found on all continents except Antarctica. It primarily hunts medium-sized birds, dropping down on them from high above in that amazing stoop.