Falcons are usually smaller than other birds of prey, and they have long pointed wings more suited for speed than for soaring. These unique birds often specialize in hunting other birds, and there are falcons on every continent except Antarctica. They’re found all over the country and the world, but in this article we’re talking about the falcons found in Wisconsin.
4 Species of falcons in Wisconsin
The 4 species of falcons that can be found in Wisconsin are the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and the Gyrfalcon. They may be less numerous when it comes to the number of species than hawks or other birds of prey, but they’re no less impressive.
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
In most of their range, kestrels are year-round residents. In Wisconsin, however, you’ll only find them during the summer breeding season. During those months you’ll find them throughout the state in all kinds of environments. They’ll even nest in major urban areas.
American Kestrels can often be spotted perched on fence posts or telephone wires in farm country as they scan for their prey, which includes grasshoppers, lizards, and mice. Sometimes they’ll hover by facing into the wind while flying. They like to nest in cavities in trees, but they’ll find niches and cracks in man-made structures to nest in as well.
- Scientific name: Falco columbarius
- Length: 9.4-11.8 in
- Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
- Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
Merlins are mostly spotted in Wisconsin as they migrate through to their breeding grounds in Canada or their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast. Wisconsin lies just below the southernmost extent of the merlin’s breeding range.
While merlins are roughly the same size as the kestrel, they weigh almost three times as much because they’re so heavily muscled. As a result, merlins are powerful fliers that can outrun and outmaneuver most other birds. They favor surprise attacks, and often the only way to spot them is to wait until you see a flock of birds suddenly take flight- a merlin may just be the cause.
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 usually found in Wisconsin as they migrate through it, but there are resident populations in the state along the shore of Lake Michigan and along the Mississippi River where it forms the Western border of Wisconsin. You’ll find them in open areas near cliff faces- or skyscrapers. They like to perch in high areas while they scan for prey.
Peregrines are fast- they can fly at 67mph when pursuing prey and can reach over 200 miles per hour in a dive. That makes them faster than any other animal on Earth, and researchers still aren’t entirely certain how they survive such speeds.
- Scientific name: Falco rusticolus
- Length: 19-25.5 in
- Weight: 28.5-74 oz
- Wingspan: 43-63 in
Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons, often reaching sizes greater than most hawks. They like cold, northern habitats and breed in the open tundra above the Arctic Circle. Still, like most birds, they prefer to avoid the harsh winters there. They’re not warm-weather birds by any means, though, and northern Wisconsin is the southern edge of their winter range.
During the winter, you’ll find them in the river valleys, grasslands, and farmlands of northern Wisconsin. They like wide open habitat with high bird populations for them to prey on. They’re somewhat unique in that they often prefer to perch on the ground, so don’t just scan the skies for them.