The Prairie Falcon, is a medium-sized bird of prey, belonging to genus Falco. It is found in the western part of North America. It is often confused with Peregrine falcon, Hawks (Buteo swainsoni) and Merlin (Falco columbarius). This species is popular as a falconry bird.
Species: F. mexicanus
The scientific name for Prairie Falcon is Falco mexicanus.
Adult male Prairie falcons are somewhere between 37 to 39 centimetres in length, and their weight is around 500 to 640 grams. Female specimens are a bit larger than the male specimens. Adult females tend to be around 42 to 46 centimetres, and they weigh 760 to 970 grams. Their average wingspan can be around 3.5 feet.
Their plumage is bright greyish-brown (also known as ‘sandy’) on the upper parts; while the plumage of the underparts tends to be a little pale with dark mottling. Upper part dark areas are the basic wing feathers, and the dull areas are the tail and rump. Their underwing and axillary are black, apart from the wing’s leading edge. They carry a white patch over its pair of eyes. They have a narrow, black mark on its head. They have yellow feet. Their bill is light blue. For most parts, young birds resemble the adults apart from dark streaks on its belly and breast; as well as dark and less greyish upper parts.
During fall migrations and spring, they prefer to live in open grassland areas (even though they are known to inhabit forested regions in Canada during migration time). During winter, this bird of prey prefer grasslands and open desert areas.
They breed in arid, open grasslands with bluffs and cliffs for nesting. They often share the nesting sites with Red-tailed Hawks, Common ravens (Corvus corax) and Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos).
Prairie falcons are found in the western part of the United States, Canada and Mexico. In the United States, they are found in Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, North Dakota and South Dakota. In Canada, they are found in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
In its territory, this species has to compete for space and food, with other birds like Golden eagle, Great horned owl, Ferruginous hawk, Harris’s hawk, Red-tailed hawk and Peregrine falcon among others. They are considered as one of the most aggressive raptors. The Prairie falcon defends its territory against large raptors in a violent way, with both male and female scaling up a coördinated attack. Biologists have also reported that these birds have the capability to drive away its much larger competitors from its territory, and often killing them. When it comes to driving away larger raptors, Prairie falcons dive downwards and create fetal wounds with its talons. However, this conflict does not take place if food is plentiful in its territory since this species have been noted to nest within a few hundred meters away from the nests of Golden eagles, Red-tailed hawks, Peregrine falcons and Great horned owls. They fly with stiff, shallow wing beats. They can fly at a speed of around 70 kilometres per hour and it gets accelerated during a chase. They are usually solitary, and only seen in pairs in during the breeding months. They also engage in play-like activities. Researchers have noted this bird tossing dry cow dung in mid-air and catching them again while in flight. Self-maintenance include dust bathing and bathing in water, when available. Most of their flights take place during the day, but nocturnal flights have also been noted.
Courtship display includes males performing aerial acrobatics and calling near nesting ledges. The nest is usually made on a cliff; or at times in a tree branch, dirt bank, or an abandoned nest of hawk or raven on the ledge.
Females lay 2 to 6 eggs that are white in color with small brown patches. Incubation goes on 30 to 32 days and it is mostly done by the female. During incubation, male bring foods to the female and he may incubate the eggs when the female is eating. Female stay with the juveniles for another four weeks following hatching. After that, the female also goes out of the nest for hunting. The juveniles leave the nest in another 1 or 2 weeks.
The diet of Prairie Falcon is a lot more varied compared to other falcons. They primarily feed on various types of birds including quail, doves, nighthawks, pheasants, chukars, meadowlark, swallows and tanagers. They also hunt other raptors like Burrowing owls. At times, they feed on Ground squirrels, Packrats, Cottontail rabbits and Kangaroo rats. It is rare, but they also feed on Collared lizards, whiptails, Horned lizards, scorpions and Grasshoppers.
The lifespan of this species is not known. However, most common opinions suggest that they have a lifespan of 2.4 years to 5 years in its natural habitat.
They emit a repetitive ‘kreee.. kreeee…, kik kik kik…’, mostly during the breeding season.
Eggs and nestlings are susceptible to predation. Mammalian predators include Bobcats and Coyotes. Both adults and juveniles are preyed upon by Great horned owls.
Loss of habitats, in some of its native ranges, is considered to be a great threat to its survival.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept this species in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
In the past, it was believed to be the only New World representative of the hierofalcon subgenus. But recent genetic analysis has disproved this theory. DNA studies have shown that Falco mexicanus are closer to the peregrine than the hierofalcon.
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