Museum Photos, Part II — Prairie Falcon
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The Prairie Falcon is one of the iconic creatures of the Sonoran Desert. This compact falcon is the epitome of speed and grace and, for my money, is one of the most beautiful of all raptor species. It is listed in the field guides as being about the same size and weight as its close cousin, the Peregrine Falcon. I’m a bit skeptical about that, the Prairies that I’ve seen have generally appeared to be slightly smaller than Peregrines. Physically, the two species resemble each other. The Peregrines are definitely faster fliers, but Prairie Falcons are no slouches in the speed department. Watching one race across the desert floor reminds one of a feather-covered bullet. Prairies can hunt from perches or on the wing. Whereas Peregrines live almost exclusively on birds, Prairies have a much more varied diet that includes small mammals and even insects.
I’d love to post some gorgeous photos of Prairie Falcons taken in the field, but here’s the problem with that: Prairies are extraordinarily difficult, indeed, virtually impossible, to photograph well, at least with the limited equipment that I own. They will fly at the slightest disturbance and it is difficult to get closer to these birds than about 50 yards. That’s just too far away for nice frame-filling shots with a 400 mm lens.
However, last week I was able to get some photos of the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum’s Prairie Falcon during the Raptor Free Flight demonstration. I believe these photos prove my point. This is one gorgeous bird!
This photo and the next one show off the Prairie Falcon’s lean and compact shape. The dark vertical stripes under the bird’s eyes are present on all falcons of every species.
Ready to fly. The bird is like a coiled spring, that can explode into flight without warning. It’s one of the reasons why the bird is so difficult to photograph. A Prairie Falcon almost never tips off its next move.
Airborne. Note the bird’s narrow and pointed wings. A Prairie Falcon does not specialize in soaring. Those wings enable it to accelerate to top speed very quickly. Prairie Falcons distinguish themselves in flight with short, rapid, scissor-like wingbeats that are totally different from the soaring flights of Red-tailed Hawks.
All photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 70-200 mm f4 L zoom lens, ISO 250, “M” setting, f6.3 @ 1/1600.