In this article we’ll be discussing North American falcons, more precisely the falcons in Utah. There are fewer types of falcons in general than hawks or owls, and only 3 species in the state of Utah. Those species are the American Kestrel, the Peregrine Falcon, and the Merlin.
Falcons are birds of prey that have long, pointed wings and a notched beak that are well equipped for speed. Their preferred method of hunting is catching prey by diving on it from above. They are generally smaller and more compact than other birds of prey, but no less deadly when it comes to hunting.
So let’s take a look at the 3 different types of falcons you may come across in Utah.
3 species of falcons in Utah
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 a very widespread bird and has year-round populations across the North American continent – including state-wide in Utah. It’s the smallest of the falcons in Utah and is also one of the most colorful of all raptors. The males have gorgeous slate-blue heads and wings that contrast with the rusty-red back and tail, while the females have the same warm red on her wings, back, and tail.
Despite their ferocity, they’re often prey for larger birds of prey such as Red-Tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks. Due to this, they’ve had to evolve 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.
2. Peregrine Falcon
- Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
- Length: 14.2-19.3 in
- Weight: 18.7-56.4 oz
- Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 in
The Peregrine Falcon has both year-round and migratory populations within Utah, and is the most prized bird of the area. They’re commonly trained for hunting due to their 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, it travels about a kilometer into the air before diving back down and reaching speeds of over 200 miles per hour!
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. Their numbers drastically decreased thanks to pesticide poisoning in the middle 20th century, but they’ve made an incredible rebound and are now regularly seen in many large cities and coastal areas.
- 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 non-breeding populations within Utah, meaning it’s easiest to see these birds throughout the state 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.