Falcons are small, fast birds of prey with long, pointed wings. They’re speed and ferocity have made them popular birds, both with bird-watchers and falconers- people who train birds-of-prey professionally. Falcons live all over the world, and there are dozens of species. This article will focus on 3 species of falcons in New Jersey, we’ll look at some pictures and learn some fun facts.
3 Species of Falcon in New Jersey
The 3 species of falcons in New Jersey are the American Kestrel, the Merlin, and the Peregrine Falcon. While the names may or may not be unfamiliar to you, you’ve likely seen these birds before.
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 kestrel is one of the most common predatory birds in North America. It lives throughout the continental US and much of South America year-round, with migratory populations in Canada and Central America. In New Jersey kestrels can be found in every area of the state at all times of the year.
American Kestrels are the smallest falcons in New Jersey and the smallest raptors in all of North America. Their small size means they hunt mostly small creatures like grasshoppers, lizards, mice, and sometimes small birds. Kestrels can live in a wide variety of environments, including urban settings, which means they’re frequently sighted by people in large cities.
Scientific name: Falco columbarius
Length: 9.4-11.8 in
Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
Merlins live all over the northern hemisphere, with populations in North America, Europe, and Asia. There are 9 different subspecies, but only the tundra merlin can be found in New Jersey. These birds spend the summer breeding months in Canada, and migrate south to New Jersey for the winter. They prefer open scrubland to heavily wooded areas.
When hunting, they fly fast and low, often just 3 feet or less above the ground. Birds are a common prey, and the merlin’s remarkable speed and agility enable them to capture other birds mid-flight. They’re known to shadow larger birds of prey; they wait for species like the sharp-shinned hawk to scare birds into the open. When these birds escape from the larger, slower hawks, the merlin often captures them for itself.
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
Quite possibly the most famous of the falcons, the peregrine has earned its fame by being the fasted bird in the world. In fact, it’s not just the fastest bird- it’s the fastest animal of any kind in the world. When hunting, the peregrine spots its prey from high in the air and dives to attack. It’s during this dive that they achieve their top speed of over 200 miles per hour. The impact alone is usually enough to kill their prey.
Peregrine falcons can be found on every continent except Antarctica, and they’re migratory birds in most places. In New Jersey, however, they stay put. Like kestrels, peregrine falcons have adapted remarkably well to urban environments. In the wild, they prefer to perch and nest on high cliff faces, so tall buildings are an ideal habitat. For food, New Jersey’s cities are full of the peregrine’s favorite meal: pigeons.