Falcons fall within the taxonomic order of Falconiformes, diurnal birds of prey, and family Falconidae, which includes caracaras. Six genera of falcons exist in one of the Falconidae subfamilies, and seven species in genus Falco, the true falcon genus, are found in various U.S. locations. According to biologist Peter Pyle in his book "Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part II," Falconidae family characteristics "include relatively large heads, long and very pointed wings ... powerful legs and feet with long, sharp talons."
Two Common Falcons
The American kestrel (Falco sparverius) and the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) both thrive in the contiguous 48 states. Additionally, the peregrine falcon lives in Alaska and Hawaii. These two falcon species, while found in the wild, can adapt to big city living. Both species call New York city home. In 2013, six peregrine falcons were born on two New York city bridges. Kestrels preferred older neighborhoods like the Upper West side.
The merlin (Falco columbarius) and gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) both reside in the northern United States. Merlins will migrate into and through the lower United States, wintering in the Western states. Gyrfalcons live in Alaska and the upper parts of Canada during the summer. Winter months find them in states like Montana, Idaho, North and South Dakota, upper Wisconsin, upper Michigan, and parts of Oregon and Wyoming.
Two falcons can be found in the western United States. The aplomado falcon (Falco fermoralis) and the prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus). According to The Peregrine Fund site, the aplomado falcon was placed on the endangered species list in 1986. Falco femoralis is native to Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. The Peregrine Fund has been working to re-establish the bird. Falco mexicanus inhabits the western third of the United States.
Northern Crested Caracara
People call the northern crested caracara the crested caracara and the Mexican eagle. Known by the binomial name Caracara cheriway, it's the only member of the Falconidae family to build a stick nest. More commonly found south of the U.S. border in Mexico and Central America, these birds also live in southernmost Texas, and some reside in parts of Florida. Caracaras have also been sighted as far north as San Francisco.
- Slate Creek Press: Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part II; Peter Pyle
- U.S. Forest Service: Falco peregrinus
- Bishop Museum: Peregrine Falcon
- Epoch Times: Six Peregrine Falcons Born on NYC Bridges
- New York Times: A Small Raptor at Home in the Big City
- The Peregrine Fund: Merlin
- The Peregrine Fund: Gyrfalcon
- The Peregrine Fund: Aplomado Falcon
- The Peregrine Fund: Prairie Falcon
- Golden Gate Raptor Observatory: Rare Raptors
- Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images