3 Falcons in North Carolina to spot

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Falcons in North Carolina

Falcons in North Carolina captivate birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts with their swift flight and remarkable aerial prowess. These birds of prey leave a lasting impression on anyone fortunate enough to witness them in action.

Whether exploring the coastal regions, scanning the open fields, or observing from cityscapes, encountering a falcon in North Carolina is an exhilarating experience.

What Are The Most Common Hawks In North Carolina?

The most common falcons in North Carolina include the American KestrelMerlin, and Peregrine Falcon.

From the majestic Peregrine Falcon, known for its astonishing hunting speed, to the agile Merlin, each falcon species adds a unique charm to the North Carolina skies.

This blog post aims to provide valuable insights into their behaviors, preferred habitats, nesting habits, and tips for identifying these magnificent creatures in the wild.

We have organized our list from most likely seen to the least likely to be seen for your convenience.

North Carolina Falcons

According to the latest data from ebird, there are three observed falcons in North Carolina. This data has been compiled from over 41,400 dedicated bird watchers throughout the state.

Here are some quick facts:

  • The American Kestrel is the most common observed falcons in North Carolina
  • Peregrine Falcons are the least widely observed species in North Carolina
  • The Peregrine Falcon is the largest falcon in North Carolina
  • The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North Carolina

3 Types Of Falcons In North Carolina

1. American Kestrel

The American Kestrel, also known as the Sparrow Hawk, is a small falcon found throughout North and South America and is a year-round resident of North Carolina.

  • 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.

Female American Kestrels 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.

Interesting facts

  • 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.

2. Merlin

The Merlin is a small, agile raptor found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They are migratory falcons and can be seen in North Carolina during the spring and fall migration seasons.

  • 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’ nesting sites are in trees and often reuse 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.

Interesting facts

  • 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 “pigeon hawks” 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.

3. Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcons are incredible birds of prey known for their impressive speed and agility.

They are migratory falcons that can be seen along the North Carolina Atlantic coast during the winter months and in the rest of the state during the spring and fall migration 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 a Peregrine Falcon 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.


Peregrines build their own nests using scrape 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.

Interesting facts

  • 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.
  • They 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.
  • They are known to be fiercely territorial and will defend their nest against much larger predators.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What kind of falcons live in North Carolina?

Three kinds of falcons live in Washington during the year. These include the American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon.

Are there peregrine falcons in North Carolina?

Peregrine Falcons can be seen throughout North Carolina. Still, they are most commonly seen along the Atlantic coast during the winter months and in other parts of the state during the spring and fall migration season.

Where do peregrine falcons live in North Carolina?

Peregrine Falcons can be seen in various habitats throughout North Carolina, including coastal cliffs, mountains, cities, open country, and other tall structures near water in the spring, fall, and winter months. They spend their summers up north during the breeding season.

Keep An Eye Out For the Falcons In North Carolina

North Carolina is home to three different species of falcons, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. They range from the small and fast American Kestrel to the superfast Peregrine Falcon.

Each species has adapted its hunting techniques and behavior to thrive in North Carolina’s varied environments. It presents an excellent 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 three species of falcons that live in North Carolina 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 North Carolina falcons. If you have questions about identifying more species of birds in North Carolina or finding out which ones live near you, let us know!

We would love to help identify new bird species for our readers.

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I am an avid birdwatcher with a passion for learning all I can about these fantastic creatures. I love finding new species of birds in my backyard, neighborhood, or when I travel. I enjoy sharing everything I learn about how these creatures live their lives; feedback and experience is much appreciated!

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