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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.

Habitat:

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.

Diet:

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.

Behavior:

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. 

Nesting:

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.

Song:

Alarm call of a sharp ree-kree-kree-kree (click here to hear the alarm call of a Prairie Falcon1). They also make varied vocalizations during courtship (click here to hear courtship screams of a courting pair2).

Migration:

 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:

Merlin, Peregrine Falcon

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:

1) BirdWeb - Prairie Falcon

2) Audubon Guide - Prairie Falcon

3) WhatBird - Prairie Falcon

Photo Information:

January 18th, 2015 - Jones County, 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:

1Bobby Wilcox, XC375912, Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/375912.   2Nathan Pieplow, SC109296. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/109296

 

 

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
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