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Prairie Falcon

Falco mexicanus

Length: 16 - 18 inches Wingspan: 42 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: Brown upperparts, pale underparts with brown spots, dark whiskers under eyes, dark mark at base of wing is evident in flight

Prairie Falcon - Falco mexicanusSimilar in size to the Peregrine Falcon, the Prairie Falcon is a fairly common resident of open spaces in the Western U.S.  While most commonly found in open grasslands of the West, they have adapted to a human presence by sometimes frequenting urban areas during the winter, taking advantage of the steady of supply of "urbanized" birds. In South Dakota, they are found as nesting birds in the far western edge of the state, but they disperse over most of the western half of the state in the winter (with some sightings in eastern South Dakota as well).


Primarily found in arid to semi-arid open areas such as grassland and rangeland, deserts, and above tree-line in mountainous parts of the west.  Not commonly found near developed areas in the summer, some may winter near urban centers to take advantage of common residential birds.


Primarily small mammals and small birds.  Can feed on birds up to the size of prairie chickens, and on mammals as large as jackrabbits.  They will also feed on large insects, lizards, and snakes. For many birds, the diet changes depending upon the season, with small mammals comprising the majority of the diet in summer, and birds such as Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Western Meadowlarks a heavy part of the winter diet.


Will hunt from a perch, swooping down for prey, or often by flying low over the ground, surprising prey.  Males perform a wide variety of acrobatic flight displays during courtship. 


April through July in South Dakota. The nest site is usually a protected crevice, cave, or ledge on a rocky cliff face, but they will also nest in trees or on man-made structures. Sometimes they will use a nest platform built by another species. They do little nest building of their own, as a normal site on a rocky cliff face is little more than a protected location with a bit of material to hold the eggs in place. The females lays 3 to 5 eggs, and she does most of the incubation. The young hatch after about 30 days, with young fledging from the nest after about 5-6 weeks.


Alarm call of a sharp ree-kree-kree-kree. They also make varied vocalizations during courtship.


 Primarily a permanent resident, but some move short distances to the south in the winter.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Prairie Falcon sightings

Similar Species:

To differentiate from the several species of hawks that can be found in South Dakota, look for the characteristic upright and slim shape of a falcon at rest, and the long, slim wings of a bird in flight with rapid wingbeats compared to the broader wings and slower wingbeats of a hawk. Once identified as a falcon, the following falcon species may cause some identification challenges. The the dark "armpit" of a Prairie Falcon in flight is generally diagnostic compared to the other falcon species found in South Dakota.

Gyrfalcon - Falco rusticolus Gyrfalcon - Falco rusticolus Merlin - Falco columbarius Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
Gyrfalcon (immature) Gyrfalcon (Adult - gray-morph) Merlin (female) Peregrine Falcon (adult)

South Dakota "Hotspot":

In summer, breeding is restricted to the far western edge of the state, where suitable nesting locations occur. The rocky cliffsides in North Cave Hills in Harding County are a good location to find nesting Prairie Falcons in the summer months (see photos below of young birds and a nesting site there). In the winter months, birds disperse and can be found much further east, where they feed on the large winter flocks of Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings that often form.  The Fort Pierre National Grasslands and surround areas are usually great spots to find them in the winter months.

Conservation Status:

Some indications of sharp declines near developed areas, but otherwise stable. The IUCN currently considers the Prairie Falcon to be a species of "least concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

December 6th, 2014 - Near Presho, South Dakota -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Prairie Falcon photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Prairie Falcon - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant and full-time resident in the western half of the state, rare migrant and winter visitor in the eastern half.

Additional Prairie Falcon Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Prairie Falcon 1 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 2 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 3 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 4 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 5 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 6 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 7 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 8 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 9 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 10 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 11 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 12 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 13 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 14 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 15 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 16 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 17 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 18 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 19 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 20 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 21 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 22 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 23 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 24 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 25 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 26 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 27 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 28 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 29 - Falco mexicanusPrairie Falcon 30 - Falco mexicanus (nest site)Prairie Falcon 31 - Falco mexicanus