Falcons

by Dan Weisz

Web Presentation by Douglas Everett at Hummingbird Market

There are six types of falcons in the United States.  Falcons are considered the swiftest birds in America with the Peregrine reaching speeds of over 240 miles per hour in a stoop.  Four types of falcons live in Arizona and I saw three of them this week.

Saturday I helped Wild At Heart build homes for Burrowing Owls that will be released to the wild this spring.  https://wildatheartraptors.org/recovery-programs/  The new burrows are in an agricultural area of Marana that will be an excellent habitat for them.  After lunch, I spotted a Merlin in the same field that we were placing the owls' burrows in.

Merlins spend their summers in the boreal regions of Canada and then winter in the central and western regions of the United States, so they are “snowbirds”.  

Welcome to southern Arizona little fella.

Merlins, like all falcons, use speed to catch their prey.  Their long and narrow wings are built for speed.  The merlin is surveying the field from his perch atop some brush.  Of course in the photo above, he’s checking me (and my car) out.  Below, he gets back to business.

Merlins primarily eat birds, typically catching them in the air mid-flight.  Their long toes are used to wrap around their prey.  For some perspective, look at the perch site the merlin chose after flying a short distance away from me.  It still gives him a good post to look for prey from across this very flat area.

But the Merlin is still watching me to figure out what I am up to.  Merlins have that white eyebrow.

American Kestrels are the smallest falcon in the United States.  They are a bit smaller than Merlins and are more slender.  Kestrels are lighter in color than Merlins and have a distinctive stripe on their cheek, called a malar stripe.  The blue wings lets us know this is a male.  Kestrels will often hunt from telephone wires near open fields.

Although I’d rather not have the wire in this photo, seeing the beauty of the Kestrel at take off makes up for that.  One foot is still on the wire and both legs are extended as the second leg has already let go and his wings- Wow!

The third type of falcon I saw this week was the Peregrine Falcon.  I saw a pair on a power structure next to the Santa Cruz River at Columbus Park.  I also saw a Peregrine Falcon along Skyline Drive.   But this Peregrine flies in the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum’s Raptor Free Flight Show.  The photos below are from Friday’s demo.  Peregrines have that falcon body shape:  long pointed wings and a bullet shaped body- broad at the shoulders and tapering towards their tails.  Peregrines also seem to be wearing a heavy black helmet with a thick black malar stripe.

Peregrines have a special beauty and grace in their powerful flight.  She was probably flying at about 30 miles per hour in this shot.