Alaska, often called the Last Frontier, boasts not only breathtaking landscapes and incredible wildlife but also a remarkably diverse bird population, including some of the world’s most exciting raptors.
Residents can spot four species of falcons in Alaska, from the iconic Peregrine Falcon, known for its astonishing hunting stoops, to the majestic Gyrfalcon.
What Are The Most Common Falcons In Alaska?
The most common falcons in Alaska include the Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon, and American Kestrel.
These remarkable birds have carved out their niche in this wild and rugged land, and their presence here is nothing short of amazing.
Whether exploring the Arctic tundra, rugged coastal cliffs, or hiking through the wilderness, encountering a falcon in Alaska is an incredible experience.
Delve into their distinctive characteristics, behaviors, and preferred habitats, gaining insights into their hunting techniques, nesting habits, and identification.
According to the latest data from ebird, there are three observed falcons in Alaska. This data has been compiled from over 15,700 dedicated bird watchers throughout the state.
Here are some quick facts:
- The Merlin is the most common observed falcons in Alaska
- American Kestrels are the least widely observed species in Alaska
- The Gyrfalcon is the largest falcon in Alaska
- The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in Alaska
4 Types Of Falcons In Alaska
The Merlin is a small, agile falcon found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They can be seen in southern Alaska all year round and in the interior during the summer breeding season.
- Length: 24-30cm (9.4-11.8 inches)
- Weight: 160-240g (5.6-8.5oz)
- Wingspan: 53-68cm (21-26.8 inches)
- Merlin Scientific Name: Falco columbarius
Merlins are small falcons, about the size of a pigeon, with a wingspan of around 2 feet.
They have compact, muscular bodies with pointed wings and medium-length tails.
Adult males are slate-gray above, while females and juveniles have a brown and buff pattern. Below they are streaky brown with a dark tail with white bands.
You can spot Merlins in various habitats, including coniferous forests, grasslands, and wetlands throughout North America. You can also see them hunting in urban areas like parks and gardens.
Merlins primarily feed on small birds, such as finches and sparrows, but also eat large insects, small rodents, bats, and reptiles.
They hunt by flying low and fast, often catching their prey by surprise or chasing their prey through trees and over open ground. They are incredibly agile and will see their prey in mid-air.
Merlins build their nests in trees, often reusing old crow or hawk nests.
They typically lay 3-5 eggs, which the female mainly incubates for about a month. The male brings food and incubates the eggs while she eats.
Males typically bring food for the female and chicks, but the females feed their young.
- Merlins are known for their speed and agility, able to chase down and catch prey in mid-air and make sharp turns in pursuit.
- Merlins are occasionally used in falconry due to their small size and hunting prowess.
- In the UK, Merlins are known as the “pigeon hawk” due to their habit of hunting pigeons.
- Despite their small size, Merlins are known to be fiercely territorial and will defend their nest against much larger predators.
2. Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcons are incredible birds of prey known for their impressive speed and agility. They can be seen in Alaska during the summer breeding season.
- Length: 36-49cm (14-19 inches)
- Weight: 530-1600g (18.6-56.4oz)
- Wingspan: 100-110cm (39.4-43.3 inches)
- Peregrine Falcon Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
Peregrine Falcons are medium-sized birds with long wings (up to 3 feet) and long tails.
They are blueish-gray above and white or cream-colored below, with black barring on their belly and sides. They have a distinctive black “mustache” mark on their face and a yellow eye ring.
One noticeable feature of Peregrines is when they are perched, their wings almost extend to the tip of the tail.
You can spot Peregrine Falcons in various habitats, including coastal cliffs, mountains, cities, open country, and other tall structures near water.
People often see them perched on tall buildings, water towers, or bridges.
Peregrine Falcons feed primarily on other birds, such as pigeons, doves, small birds, and waterfowl. They can hunt birds as large as geese and as small as songbirds.
They hunt by diving from great heights, reaching speeds over 200 mph, and striking their prey in mid-air with their powerful talons.
They also fly level to the ground to catch prey by surprise.
Peregrine Falcons use scrape to build their nests on cliffs, buildings, or other high structures.
They typically lay 3-4 eggs, which the female incubates for about a month. Males hunt and bring food for the female and the young during the first couple weeks.
- Peregrine Falcons are the fastest animals on Earth, capable of diving at speeds of over 200 mph.
- These birds were once endangered due to pesticides such as DDT, which caused their eggshells to become too thin to support the developing embryo. Thanks to conservation efforts, their populations have rebounded in many areas.
- Peregrine Falcons are prized falconry birds due to their speed and hunting prowess.
- These birds have a unique breathing system that allows them to get enough oxygen while flying at high speeds.
- Peregrine Falcons are known to be fiercely territorial and will defend their nest against much larger predators.
- Despite their size and speed, they occasionally fall prey to Alaska’s much larger owl species, specifically the Great Horned Owl.
The Gyrfalcon is a large falcon that inhabits the Arctic and subarctic regions of the world and is a year-round resident of Alaska.
- Length: 48-64cm (19-25 inches)
- Weight: 800-2100g (28-74oz)
- Wingspan: Avg 123cm (48 inches)
- Gyrfalcon Scientific Name: Falco rusticolus
Gyrfalcons are the largest falcon species, with a wingspan of up to 5 feet. They appear bulkier than most falcons, and females are close in size to a Red-tailed Hawk.
They come in light, gray, and dark morph colorations. The light morph is all white above, with varying darker markings and black bands on their tails.
The gray morph is dark gray above with lighter gray feather tips that give it a scaled appearance. Below they are paler with dark barring on their belly and flanks.
The dark morph is blackish-brown above and white below with heavy brown streaks.
Gyrfalcons live in various arctic habitats, including tundra, mountains, and coastal cliffs.
They are uniquely adapted to living in cold environments, and people often see them in the northernmost United States and Canada during winter.
Gyrfalcons feed primarily on other birds, such as ptarmigan, grouse, and waterfowl but will also eat small mammals, such as hares and ground squirrels.
They are skilled hunters who scout for prey on high perches or while flying and use their speed and agility to pursue or surprise their prey.
Gyrfalcons build their nests on cliffs or other high structures using old nests from other large birds.
They typically lay 3-5 eggs, which both parents incubate for about a month. Males hunt and bring food for the female, who feeds the young.
- Falconers highly prize gyrfalcons due to their size and hunting abilities.
- Gyrfalcons are among the few birds of prey with different color variations, namely light, gray, and dark morphs.
4. American Kestrel
The American Kestrel, also known as the Sparrow Hawk, is a small bird of prey throughout North and South America. They are residents of Alaska during the warmer breeding months.
- Length: 22-31cm (8.7-112.2 inches)
- Weight: 80-165g (2.8-5.8oz)
- Wingspan: 51-61cm (20-24 inches)
- American Kestrel Scientific Name: Falco sparverius
American Kestrels are one of the smallest falcon species, with a wingspan of around 2 feet.
They have a distinctive pattern on their wings, with black stripes, spots on a rusty brown background, and two black facial stripes.
Male kestrels have bluish-gray wings, a rusty-red back, and rusty tail with a black band at the tip, and an apricot-colored underpart with dark spots.
Females are reddish-brown above and streaky red below, with black bands on their tails.
You can spot American Kestrels in various habitats, including grasslands, open fields, and urban areas. They prefer areas with raised perches, such as telephone poles and fence posts.
American Kestrels feed on large insects, such as grasshoppers and beetles, small mammals, reptiles, and small birds.
They hunt by watching from a high perch or hovering in mid-air, scanning the ground for prey, then diving down to catch it with their sharp talons.
American Kestrels build their nests in empty tree cavities made by woodpeckers or other natural cavities but will also use human nest boxes.
They typically lay 3-7 eggs, which both parents incubate for about a month. Both parents take turns hunting for food and feeding the chicks.
- American Kestrels are the smallest falcon species in North America.
- These birds have a distinctive hunting technique, hovering mid-air before diving to catch their prey.
- American Kestrels are known for their bold and aggressive behavior, often attacking birds much larger than themselves.
- These birds have excellent vision, can see ultraviolet light, and detect prey from a long distance.
- American Kestrels are often used in falconry due to their small size and agility.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What kind of falcons are in Alaska?
Four kinds of falcons live in Alaska during the year. These include the Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon, and American Kestrel.
Are there peregrine falcons in Alaska?
Yes, Peregrine Falcons are regular visitors to Alaska during the summer breeding season.
Keep An Eye Out For Falcons In Alaska
Alaska is home to four species of falcons, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. They range from the small and fast Merlin to the large and powerful Gyrfalcon.
Each species has adapted to survive in Alaska’s rugged environments. It’s a great opportunity for birdwatchers to observe these birds in their natural habitats and learn more about them.
Whether you’re a bird-watching enthusiast or just someone who enjoys learning about nature, taking some time to learn about the four species of falcons in Alaska will provide you with a newfound appreciation for these incredible birds.
We hope this article has provided all the information you need to identify and appreciate all the Alaska falcons.
If you have questions about identifying more species of birds in Alaska or finding out which ones live near you, let us know!
We would love to help identify new bird species for our readers.