Prairie Falcon

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Happy Thanksgiving!  No turkey in today’s blog but something that I consider to be really special.

Very early this morning I made a quick run up to agricultural country northwest of Tucson.  Typically, in early morning one spots lots of Red-tailed Hawks sitting on the utility poles that border the farm roads.  I generally bypass these birds because I have literally hundreds of images of perching Red Tails.

I almost drove right past this bird.  From a distance I noticed its whitish breast and dark head and assumed that it was another Red Tail.  But, something about its shape caused me to pause.  It was too small to be a Red tail and its body seemed to be much more streamlined than a hawk’s.  I stopped and immediately recognized that I was looking at a Prairie Falcon.


One sees these falcons fairly often this time of year while driving in open country.  But, photographing them?  A totally different story.  These birds are extremely shy and have zero interest in cooperating with a photographer.  Usually, any Prairie Falcon that I see flees long before I can train my lens on it.  However, this one stayed put for a few seconds — no more than about 10 seconds — and I was able to capture some images of it.

A Prairie Falcon is a smallish but extremely potent bird of prey.  It is closely related to the slightly larger Peregrine Falcon but its lifestyle is somewhat different.  Peregrines specialize in capturing birds on the wing.  Prairies do that as well, but they also prey on rodents and other small terrestrial animals.  Peregrines are distributed all over the Northern Hemisphere whereas Prairies live predominately in the western United States and the southwestern Canadian prairie.  Prairie Falcons are nomadic birds.  They establish large territories and tend to move around within those territories.  Like their Peregrine cousins, Prairie Falcons establish their nests on cliffs and mountain ledges.  They tend to disappear from Arizona’s agricultural valleys during breeding season but return during cold weather when child-rearing is not part of their lives.


These are feisty little birds of prey.  Not as aggressive, perhaps, as are Peregrine Falcons, but very aggressive nonetheless.  A one-pound Prairie Falcon can easily hold its own against larger birds and it can out-fly nearly all of them.  It is fast and highly maneuverable.  At a distance its flight pattern is easily recognizable by its swept-back pointed wings and its manner of flight, consisting of short, choppy, and very rapid wingbeats.

I think that the falcon that I photographed may be a young bird.  Young Prairie Falcons have bolder markings on their breasts than do older birds.  But, the differences are subjective, so I won’t bet that this bird is a juvenile.


Whatever it is, I’m extraordinarily pleased to have been able to photograph it.  A couple of weeks ago I posted some images of Merlins.  Those were the first images I’d been able to get of those little falcons in more than two years.  These Prairie Falcon images are my first successful photos of this species in three years.  I’m having a pretty good autumn.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 mm f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x Telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 800, f8 @ 1/2000.


One response to “Prairie Falcon”

  1. thetavernthoughts says :

    Very Nice Pictures. I live in Mumbai on the 15th storey. A beautiful hawk would often sit on my window seal during the monsoon. Every time I would try to click a picture it would take off.
    Since then I am fascinated by Falcons, Hawks and kites. They are the most Regal Birds I feel.

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