One of the most fascinating group of creatures in the animal kingdom are birds of prey, the winged hunters of the wild. This group includes predatory birds like hawks, eagles and fearsome falcons. Falcons are incredibly gorgeous but deadly creatures, with thin tapered wings that maximize their flying speed, and sharp talons and beaks for hunting. Most people are familiar with species like the Peregrine falcon and gyrfalcon, the latter of which is considered one of the largest falcons in the world.
However, these are just two of 40 different species that belong to the Falco family! These species are divided roughly into 3 or 4 different sub-groups, including kestrels, hobbies, hawk-falcons, and other fowls related to the Peregrine falcon. Falcons can be found in nearly every region across the planet, except Antarctica. Here are some of the stunning species of Falcons you may be lucky enough to come across on your travels or even the backyard!
(By DickDaniels, Wikimedia Commons)
This small bird of prey is also known as katiti (in Creole), hitsikitsika (in Malagasy), as well as the Madagascar kestrel, Madagascar spotted kestrel, Malagasy spotted kestrel, the Aldabra Kestrel, and Newton's kestrel. As the name suggests, this falcon is found exclusively in Madagascar and Aldabra. As a smaller species of falcon, they breed in savannas and wetlands, as well as artificial landscapes. They build and occupy nests in everything from rock ledges to high rise buildings. While their primary diet consists of insects, they also feed on small mammals, rodents and birds.
This frightening fowl is from the raptor sub-family and is named after Amurland in south-eastern Siberia. The species breeds in this region of Siberia as well as Northern China and migrates during winter to Southern Africa. They hunt both in the air and on the ground, and they often migrate at the same time as dragonflies, which provides them with ample food on their way to Africa. Other insects like ants, beetles, and termites also provide sustenance to this Falcon, though they may occasionally hunt for smaller birds and mammals, too.
(By Elaine R. Wilson, Wikimedia Commons)
This stunning resident of various parts of South America is known in Brazil as falcão-de-coleira. It is found spanning across the southwestern region of the United States, Texas, New Mexico and across various countries of South America. This medium-sized falcon is common to grasslands and savannas, but can also be seen in large cities. Resembling the peregrine falcon, though significantly smaller, this bird has a slender body with a long tail and wings. Their prey consists primarily of smaller birds. However, when moving in pairs or larger numbers, they have even been known to even attack manned wolves.
(By DickDaniels, Wikimedia Commons)
The Saker Falcon is the national bird of both Mongolia and Hungary. It is widely spread across central Europe as well as the Palearctic realm and the region of Manchuria. During winters, they migrate toward the Arabian Peninsula, Western China, Northern Pakistan and certain areas of Ethiopia. These raptor birds usually reside in grasslands, and, unlike many other falcons, usually pursue their prey in a horizontal pattern. They feed mostly on rodents, feral pigeons and ground squirrels.
(By Peter Wächtershäuser, Wikimedia Commons)
This bird of prey is built like the Peregrine Falcon, but it is much smaller, roughly the size of a crow. The Barbary Falcon resides in semi-arid and desert-like areas across the northern and eastern regions of Africa, as well as Middle Eastern, Central and South Asian countries. They can be identified by the unique patterns on their heads and underwing. They also have a distinct flight pattern that can be identified while they are in the air. This falcon preys primarily on both feral and domestic pigeons.
(By Just a Prairie Boy from Calgary, Wikimedia Commons)
This small fearsome fowl inhabits lands across North America, Europe, and Asia, and is more commonly known as the pigeon hawk. In North America especially, the numbers of this species of falcon have been on the rise. This had led to numerous Merlins becoming adapted to city life and forgoing migration. This bird of prey feeds primarily on small birds like sparrows and quail. Depending on the region in which they are found, Merlins go by a variety of local names.
This bird is found almost exclusively in New Guinea and Australia and is known in the Australian Faunal Directory by common names like the Windhover, Hoverer and Mosquito Hawk. They are extremely small and slender, and are, in fact, one of the smallest species of falcon in the world. Because of their small stature, and other reasons, this kestrel has a very unique style of hunting, which does not rely on speed. Instead, they usually perch on high ground above grasslands and hover over their prey before striking.
(By Jürgen Dietrich, Wikimedia Commons)
This falcon is a member of the hobby family and was named after Eleanor of Arborea, the most famous hero of Sardinia. It is widely distributed across islands throughout the Mediterranean Sea, as well as off the coasts of Spain, Italy, Morocco, and numerous other western European countries. They are long-distance migrants and make their way to Madagascar in the winter. They usually eat dragonflies and other insects while in flight, and smaller birds and even bats in other scenarios.
(By Aviceda, Wikimedia Commons)
The Australian hobby’s scientific name “longipennis” is derived from its long-feathered wings, and it is also known by the name little falcon. This falcon is found all across Australia and surrounding countries. Migrant flocks can also be found on the islands of New Guinea and Indonesia. Their wings are slim and their bodies slender, making them less powerful fliers. They are commonly found in open woodlands and urban areas with heavy vegetation and feed primarily on smaller birds, bats and a variety of insects.
(By DickDaniels, Wikimedia Commons)
This falcon is fairly large, approximately the size of the peregrine falcon. In fact, it is considered to be similar to the peregrine falcon that has adapted fully to arid climates, despite being a separate species entirely. They can be found all across Southern Canada, Western United States and Northern Mexico. It is an extremely fierce hunter, with a wide variety of prey ranging from smaller birds and mammals to animals that are the same approximate size and weight. Prairie falcons are almost as popular as peregrine falcons in the field of falconry, trained hunting with birds of prey.
This kestrel was named after John Dickinson, an English missionary and physician responsible for collecting the first specimens of this species. It is also known as the white-rumped kestrel and can be found in savannas and woodlands across Southern and Eastern Africa. Dickinson’s kestrels use a perch-and-hover method of hunting similar to that of the Nankeen Kestrel, feeding on a variety of reptiles, birds, rodents, bats, and snakes. It emits a distinct high-pitched alarm when threatened.
A large to medium-sized falcon, the lanner falcon is believed to be one of the oldest living species in the sub-genus hierofalco. They are distributed widely across Africa and Southeast Europe as well as some areas in Asia. Much like the Saker falcon, this species uses a horizontal pattern to pursue and hunt its prey. It feeds primarily on bats and rodents and is known to be effective in controlling pest populations. Pairs of Lanner falcons have also been known to attack flocks of jackdaws.
(By Tiggertai, Wikimedia Commons)
This bird of prey is found throughout the highlands and mountainous regions in Eastern and Southern Africa. It is named specifically after Taita Hills in Kenya, the place where this species was first described. Despite their small stature, their strong long wings and short tails enable them to fly at high speeds. Even though they look heavy, they are extremely efficient aerial hunters. The Taita falcon usually preys on smaller birds, pursuing them in the air and consuming them after returning to their perch.
(By Koshy Koshy, Wikimedia Commons)
This medium-sized raptor is another species of hierofalcon and is distinguished by its long and uniquely shaded tibiotarsus feathers, also known as “trousers”. It is distributed across the Indian subcontinent, spanning across India, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and southern Iran. They typically feed on insects, reptiles, and amphibians. However, due to their diet and proximity to human settlements, their numbers have decreased as a result of increased use of pesticides as well as hunting.
This falcon is among the most popular and commonly found in North America and is widely believed to be the source of seven different adapted sub-species, found in a variety of climates and habitats across the United States. They are also found in northern Canada as well as Central Mexico and the Caribbean. It is closely related to the prairie falcon, the peregrine falcon, and the aplomado falcon, and is commonly trained for use in falconry. They are extremely aggressive predators, hunting small to large birds and facing off against prey of their own size.