Falcons in Washington State grace the skies with speed and agility, catching the eyes of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts across the region. With their sleek bodies and impressive hunting skills, these birds of prey are a genuinely magnificent sight.
Residents can spot five species of falcons in the state throughout the year. From the iconic Peregrine Falcon, known for its incredible hunting speed, to the agile Merlin, these birds will leave you in awe with their majestic presence and remarkable hunting skills.
common Falcons in Washington State
The most common falcons in Washington include the American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Prairie Falcon, and Gyrfalcon.
Whether you’re exploring the rugged mountain ranges, scanning the forests and fields, or observing from urban areas, the chance of encountering a falcon in Washington State is a thrilling experience.
Gain valuable insights into their behaviors, preferred habitats, and nesting habits, and learn 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.
According to the latest data from ebird, there are five observed falcons in Washington. This data has been compiled from over 40,400 dedicated bird watchers throughout the state.
Here are some quick facts:
- The American Kestrel is the most common observed falcons in Washington
- Gyrfalcons are the least widely observed species in Washington
- The Peregrine Falcon is the largest falcon in Washington
- The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in Washington
5 Types Of Falcons In Washington State
1. American Kestrel
American Kestrels, also known as the Sparrow Hawk, is a small bird of prey found throughout North and South America and is a year-round resident of Washington State.
- 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, parks, and backyards. 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 smaller 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.
An American Kestrels nesting site is typically 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.
2. Peregrine Falcon
The Peregrine Falcon is an incredible bird of prey that can be seen throughout North America. They are migratory falcons and can be seen along the west coast of Washington all year round and in the rest of the state during their 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 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 nest sites 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.
The Merlin is a small, agile falcon found throughout the Northern Hemisphere and are residents of Washington all year round.
- 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.
Merlin nesting sites are usually in old nests of larger Washington State birds such as hawks, magpies, and crows.
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 “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.
4. Prairie Falcon
The Prairie Falcon is a large falcon inhabiting North America’s western regions. They can be seen in eastern Washington all year round and in western Washington during the non-breeding winter months.
- Length: 37-47cm (14.6-18.5 inches)
- Weight: 420-1100g (14.8-39oz)
- Wingspan: 90-113cm (35.4-44.5 inches)
- Prairie Falcon Scientific Name: Falco mexicanus
Prairie Falcons are brown above with pale barring and light-colored below with dark streaks on the belly and sides.
They have a distinctive mustache mark on their face, which is black or dark brown, and a yellow eye ring.
You can spot Prairie Falcons in various open habitats in the western half of North America, such as prairies, grasslands, deserts, and hills.
Prairie Falcons feed on other small birds and mammals, such as songbirds, pigeons, quail, squirrels, and jackrabbits.
They are skilled hunters and will use various techniques to catch their prey by surprise.
Prairie Falcons can be found nesting on cliffs in old nests of other large raptors or ravens or using dirt and scrape.
They typically lay 3-5 eggs, which the female incubates for about a month. Males hunt and bring food for the females and young.
- Prairie Falcons are known for their versatile hunting skills and will use any technique with the highest chance of success.
- They are fierce defenders of their nest and often take on larger raptors to defend their young.
- Prairie Falcons are famous birds for falconry due to their speed, agility, and versatility.
The Gyrfalcon is a large falcon that inhabits the Arctic and subarctic regions of the world. They are the least observed species in Washington and can be seen primarily in the state’s northern half during the colder non-breeding season.
- 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 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
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What kind of falcons live in Washington State?
Five kinds of falcons live in Washington during the year. These include the American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Prairie Falcon, and Gyrfalcon.
Are there peregrine falcons in Washington state?
Yes, Peregrine Falcons are a common species in Washington State. They can be seen along the west coast all year round and in the rest of the state during the spring and fall migration period.
Are falcons native to Washington?
Yes, four species of falcons are native to Washington State. These include the American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, and Prairie Falcon. The Gyrfalcon is the only falcon species in Washington that is not a year-round resident.
Keep An Eye Out For Falcons In Washington State
Washington State is home to five different species of falcons, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. They range from the small and fast American Kestrel to the large and powerful Gyrfalcon.
Each species has adapted its own hunting techniques and behavior to survive in Washington’s varied 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 five species of falcons that live in Washington 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 Washington falcons. If you have questions about identifying more species of birds in Washington State or finding out which ones live near you, let us know!
We would love to help identify new bird species for our readers.