In this article, titled “Birds of Prey: 4 Falcons Found in Nevada,” the author Melanie provides a fascinating look at the four species of falcons that can be found in Nevada. Falcons, known for their distinct hunting techniques and impressive speed, differ from other raptors such as eagles and hawks in various ways. Through detailed descriptions and vivid photographs, readers will learn about each species of falcon, including the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie Falcon. From their unique characteristics to their preferred habitats, this article offers an engaging exploration of these magnificent birds of prey.
Falcons found in Nevada
Nevada is home to several species of falcons, magnificent birds of prey known for their speed and agility. Let’s take a closer look at four species of falcons that can be found in Nevada: the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie Falcon.
The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America, slightly larger than a robin but smaller than a crow. Despite their size, these fierce predators can take down birds larger than themselves, such as Northern Flickers. They primarily feed on insects and invertebrates, including grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas, dragonflies, moths, and spiders. They also prey on small rodents, bats, lizards, frogs, and songbirds.
American Kestrels have unique coloring, with rusty browns and bluish grays. Both males and females have black barring on their back and two black stripes on their face. Females are mostly rusty colored, while males have bluish-gray on their head and wings. These falcons are most active in the summer and are often seen perching on fence posts and telephone wires, especially around farmland. They have the ability to hover in place, scanning the ground below, and can be found throughout Nevada year-round.
Merlins are another species of falcon that can be found in Nevada. They migrate south during the winter from their summer breeding grounds in Canada, providing an opportunity to spot them in the state. Merlins primarily feed on other birds, such as house sparrows, dickcissels, sandpipers, and other shorebirds. They are known for their high-speed attacks, zooming across the ground or chasing their prey from below, forcing them higher and higher until they tire.
Compared to the American Kestrel, Merlins are slightly larger with a stocky body and squarish head. They have a heavily streaked chest and belly, with coloring ranging from gray to brown depending on their geographic location. In flight, they have prominent barring on the underside of their wings. Merlins can be found across North America, and while they are difficult to spot due to their constant movement, they can be seen perched high in treetops near forest edges and on low perches in open grasslands.
The Peregrine Falcon is known as the fastest bird and animal on the planet, capable of reaching speeds of over 200 mph when diving for prey. These falcons pass through Nevada during migration periods, with some staying along the state’s eastern border throughout the year. Most Peregrines in the U.S. migrate to arctic regions of Canada and Greenland to breed, making them true wanderers.
Males and females of the Peregrine Falcon look alike, with a dark back and head, a light chest, and streaked underparts. They have bright yellow coloring on their legs, around their eyes, and at the base of their beak. Peregrines primarily feed on birds of all species, with pigeons being a large part of their diet in urban settings. They also consume bats and rodents.
These falcons nest on cliff faces, including those found in the Grand Canyon, and can also use abandoned eagle, owl, or red-tailed hawk nests if cliffs are not available. Once heavily impacted by pesticide poisoning, Peregrines have made a strong comeback since the mid-20th century.
The Prairie Falcon is well-suited for wide open spaces like grasslands and fields, where it soars high overhead in search of small mammals or other birds, which make up its primary diet. It is found throughout the western half of the U.S. year-round, including Nevada, and may move slightly eastward during the winter months.
While they do engage in soaring, Prairie Falcons often fly low over open land. In their preferred grassland or tundra habitats, water can be scarce, leading them to take dust baths. In the summer, they primarily feed on small mammals like squirrels, while in the winter, their diet shifts to medium-sized birds such as horned larks and western meadowlarks.
Prairie Falcons have brown coloring, blending into their surroundings, with light-colored underparts barred with brown. In flight, a dark spot can be seen in the “armpit” of their wing. They have a distinct brown “mustache” and a white eyebrow stripe. Instead of building intricate nests, Prairie Falcons often use natural crevices and depressions along cliffs or areas with protective overhangs. They fiercely patrol their territory and will defend it against any Peregrin Falcons that intrude.
In conclusion, Nevada offers bird enthusiasts the opportunity to observe and appreciate the beauty and diversity of falcons. From the small yet powerful American Kestrel to the incredibly fast Peregrine Falcon, these birds of prey demonstrate their remarkable adaptations and behaviors in the varied landscapes of the state. Whether soaring high above grasslands or perched on telephone wires, falcons captivate with their hunting prowess and add to the rich avian life of Nevada.