In Michigan, birds of prey enthusiasts can witness the grace and power of falcons as they soar through the skies. Falcons are known for their speed and agility, making them formidable predators in the avian world. Michigan is home to four amazing species of falcons: the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and the Gyrfalcon. Each of these species brings its own unique characteristics and behaviors to the state, captivating observers with their hunting techniques and impressive aerial displays. Whether perched on a fence post in farm country or diving at incredible speeds, these falcons are a sight to behold in the Great Lakes State.
Falcons in Michigan: 4 Amazing Species
Falcons are usually smaller than other birds of prey, and they have long pointed wings more suited for speed than for soaring. These unique birds often specialize in hunting other birds, and are among the fastest birds of prey there are. There are falcons on every continent except Antarctica, meaning they’re found all over the country and the world, but in this article we’re talking about the falcons found in Michigan.
1. American Kestrel
The American Kestrel, also known by its scientific name Falco sparverius, is one of the four species of falcons found in Michigan. It has a length of 8.7-12.2 inches and weighs around 2.8-5.8 ounces, with a wingspan of 20.1-24.0 inches.
In much of their North America range, kestrels are year-round residents. In Michigan and north into Canada though, you’ll only find them during the summer breeding season. During those months, you’ll find them throughout the state in all kinds of environments. They’ll even nest in major urban areas.
American Kestrels can often be spotted perched on fence posts or telephone wires in farm country as they scan for their prey, which includes grasshoppers, lizards, and mice. Sometimes they’ll hover by facing into the wind while flying. They like to nest in cavities in trees, but they’ll find niches and cracks in man-made structures to nest in as well.
The Merlin, scientifically known as Falco columbarius, is another fascinating species of falcon found in Michigan. It has a length of 9.4-11.8 inches and weighs around 5.6-8.5 ounces, with a wingspan of 20.9-26.8 inches.
Merlins are mostly spotted in Michigan as they migrate through to their breeding grounds in Canada or their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast. Michigan lies just below the southernmost extent of the merlin’s breeding range. There does appear to be a breeding population of Merlins in areas of the upper-peninsula of Michigan, so keep your eyes open for them in the spring and summer.
While merlins are roughly the same size as the kestrel, they weigh almost three times as much because they’re so heavily muscled. As a result, merlins are powerful fliers that can outrun and outmaneuver most other birds. They favor surprise attacks, and often the only way to spot them is to wait until you see a flock of birds suddenly take flight- a merlin may just be the cause.
3. Peregrine Falcon
The Peregrine Falcon, scientifically known as Falco peregrinus, is an impressive falcon species that can be found in Michigan. It has a length of 14.2-19.3 inches and weighs around 18.7-56.4 ounces, with a wingspan of 39.4-43.3 inches.
Peregrine Falcons are usually found in Michigan as they migrate through it, but there may be intermittent resident populations in the state along the shore of Lake Michigan. You’ll find them in open areas near cliff faces- or skyscrapers. They like to perch in high areas while they scan for prey.
Peregrines are fast- they can fly at 67 mph when pursuing prey and can reach over 200 miles per hour in a dive. That makes them faster than any other animal on Earth, and researchers still aren’t entirely certain how they survive such speeds. These amazing falcons were at one point pushed to the brink of extinction in North America, but thanks to conservation efforts they are making a strong comeback.
The Gyrfalcon, scientifically known as Falco rusticolus, is the largest falcon species in Michigan, often reaching sizes greater than most hawks. It has a length of 19-25.5 inches and weighs around 28.5-74 ounces, with a wingspan of 43-63 inches.
Gyrfalcons like cold, northern habitats and breed in the open tundra above the Arctic Circle. Still, like most birds, they prefer to avoid the harsh winters there. They’re not warm-weather birds by any means, though, and northern Michigan is the southern edge of their winter range.
During the winter, you’ll find them in the river valleys, grasslands, and farmlands of northern Michigan. They like wide open habitat with high bird populations for them to prey on. They’re somewhat unique in that they often prefer to perch on the ground, so don’t just scan the skies for them.
In conclusion, Michigan is home to four amazing species of falcons: the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Gyrfalcon. Each species has its own unique characteristics and habitats, making them a fascinating part of the state’s wildlife. Whether you’re a casual observer or a dedicated birdwatcher, keep an eye out for these majestic falcons in the skies of Michigan.