Home | Species Database | Species Accounts | Bibliography | Researchers | Related Sites | Login

Prairie Falcon
Falco mexicanus

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Stable.

Other Names: None.

more photos
Falco mexicanus
click to enlarge
Distribution: Nearctic. Western North America from CANADA (central British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan) south through UNITED STATES (east to North Dakota, Texas) to MEXICO (Baja California, Durango); winters to central MEXICO (Jalisco, Hidalgo). more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Formerly thought to form a superspecies with the "hierofalcons" (subgenus Hierofalco), including F. biarmicus, F. jugger, F. biarmicus, and F. rusticolus (Kleinschmidt 1901, Stresemann and Amadon 1979). However, the mitochondrial DNA studies of (Wink and Sauer-Gürth 2000, 2004) and Nittinger et al. (2005) showed that the Prairie Falcon is not a member of the Hierofalco group, but clusters at the base of the peregrine/Hierofalco clade. The karyological data of Schmutz and Oliphant (1987) and aspects of courtship behavior and vocalizations (Wrege and Cade 1977, Oliphant 1991) also indicate a close relationship with the peregrine. Wink and Sauer-Gürth (op cit.) estimated that the Prairie Falcon diverged about 3 to 5 million years ago from an Old World ancestor, assuming a molecular clock calibration of 2% sequence divergence = 1 million years (Wilson et al. 1987, Tarr and Fleischer 1993).

Movements: Partial migrant and also an altitudinal migrant in some areas (Bildstein 2006). Resident, albeit somewhat nomadic, in most areas, with local movements probably reflecting changes in food availability (Steenhof 1998). Band returns indicate that there is a general movement southeast toward the southern Great Plains in fall (Enderson 1984). In Arizona, there is a noticeable influx into open grasslands and agricultural areas in fall and winter (Moors 2006). Birds in Oregon depart from the breeding area and move higher into higher elevations as soon as prey becomes difficult to find, and this coincides with the onset of aestivation by ground squirrels, their main prey, in July (Janes 1975).

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in open areas of all kinds, includings plains, grasslands, steppes, deserts, and agricultural areas, especially where there are cliffs for nesting and roosting. This falcon typically perches on a power pole, cliff, or tree and drops low from the perch to pursue its intended prey directly, flying just above the vegetation. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Preys mainly on small mammals, especially ground squirrels, and medium-sized birds (meadowlarks, chukars, pheasants, quails), and less commonly on lizards and insects. Haak (1982) observed that one out of every three attempts resulted in a capture. more....

Breeding: Nests almost exclusively in recesses or potholes on cliffs, either in a natural depression, or in the old stick nest of another raptor species or ravens. Some eyries are used in successive years. Nesting oocurs in most areas from April to June. Clutch size is 3-6 eggs, which are white and heavily suffused with light and medium-brown spots and splotches. Incubation is perfomed mostly by the female and lasts around 31 days. During the first half of the nestling period, the male does most of the feeding, but both sexes feed larger young. The nestling period is 38-40 days, and fledged young remain dependent on the parents for several more weeks. more....

Conservation: Relatively common throughout its range. This species was less heavily affected by DDE-induced eggshell thinning than the Peregrine Falcon, presumably because it tends to feed more on granivorous or herbivorous mammals, which are less contaminated by pesticide residues than the avian prey of peregrines. In some localities, Peregrine Falcons are replacing prairies at nesting cliffs. Most likely, Prairie Falcons occupied some former peregrine nest sites during the period (1950s-early 1970s) of maximum decline of the latter species from eggshell thinning, and with the subsequent recovery of the peregrine, it may be regaining control of some of its former nest sites (e.g., Moors 2006). Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Important References: 
Anderson, S.H., and J.R. Squires. 1997. The Prairie Falcon. University of
  Texas Press, Austin, TX.
Dawson, J.W. 1998. Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus). In R. Glinski (ed.),
  Raptors of Arizona. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.
Enderson, J.H. 1964. A study of the Prairie Falcon in the cental Rocky
  Mountain region. Auk 81:332-352.
Haak, B.A. 1995. Pirate of the plains: adventures with Prairie Falcons in
  the high desert. Hancock House Publishers, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
Steenhof, K. 1998. Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus). In A. Poole and F.
  Gill (eds.), The Birds of North America no. 346. The Academy of Natural
  Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and the American Ornithologists' Union,
  Washington, D.C.
Webster, H.M., Jr. 1944. A survey of the Prairie Falcon in Colorado. Auk
White, C.M. 1994. Prairie Falcon. P. 274 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and
  J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World
  vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Wolf, C.J., J.M. Ramakka, and B.O. Wolf. 2010. Prairie Falcon (Falco
). Pp. 461-473 in J.-L.E. Cartron (ed.), Raptors of New Mexico.
  University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM.

Andersen, David
Davis, Kate
Enderson, James
Fuller, Mark
Kochert, Michael N.
Lincer, Jeff
Smith, Jeff
Smith, Brian
Steenhof, Karen

Last modified: 7/17/2011

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Prairie Falcon Falco mexicanus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 12 Jun. 2021

Home | Species Database | Species Accounts | Bibliography | Researchers | Related Sites | Login

Copyright © 1999-2012 The Peregrine Fund. All Rights Reserved.