DNA testing is revolutionizing our understanding of the relatedness between different species. Among the avifauna, one of the surprises has been the discovery that falcons are close relatives of parrots and share a common ancestry with songbirds. This is one of the reasons you will find falcons next to parrots in your printed bird guide (at least if it’s of recent vintage), instead of next to hawks, those other diurnal birds of prey whom they resemble most.

Falcons tend to be smaller than hawks, have more slender and pointed wings, and more rounded faces. They are swift predators that mostly capture their prey on the wing. Sadly, their diet consists mainly of other birds. They reach impressive velocities, with the Peregrine Falcon able to plummet out of the sky at speeds of up to 200 mph.

Of the nearly 40 global falcon species, and the 7 that occur in North America, I’m still hoping to make the acquaintance of a Crested Caracara, Gyrfalcon, and Aplomado Falcon in the wild (I have seen one of the latter as a captive bird). The 4 species I enjoy semi-regularly in Colorado are the American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie Falcon. I hope you will, too.

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54 thoughts on “Falco

  1. Fascinating – didn’t know that 🙂. Here in the UK peregrines are recovering slowly following a massive decline due to a combination of unintended pesticide poisoning and deliberate persecution. In my home town a pair nests each year on a ledge high up on a disused mill building. They have become local birding celebrities, and whenever we drive past during the breeding season we see folk scanning for them with binoculars and long lens cameras. Great birds!

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    • I only learned about this interesting relationship recently, Mr. P. DDT wreaked havoc on Peregrine Falcons here as well, but fortunately, their numbers have rebounded. The same is true for Germany. In the little town where my dad lives, a pair has taken over a tower for nesting purposes as well, just as in your home town. It’s nice to learn of similarly encouraging stories.
      Be well,

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      • I love the way peregrines are re-purposing man’s structures for their own use. In the UK as well disused industrial buildings like my local mill, they now make their homes on the top of high-rise towers and cathedral / church towers (there’s currently a pair with chicks on a ledge at Derby cathedral, just 10 miles from here). I guess these places remind them of their natural, cliff side residences. Very adaptable birds, for sure.

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  2. A beautiful bird. I did not know that they were related to parrots. Yes, it too bad that they eat songbirds, but that’s how they earn their keep. Unlike us, they don’t really have a choice in the matter.

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  3. Lovely Falcons, so regal looking!

    The same has been happening with plants and flowers. DNA has pointed out many misidentifications and misclassifications. It’s fascinating to think that just like humans all animals and plants have a unique DNA makeup. Simply amazing!

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    • That’s a fascinating question, Steve. I tried to do a quick search, but the first several pages of results all refer to the Atlanta Falcons. 🙂
      As far as falcons riding on shoulders, that’s a little easier to imagine. I suspect falconers could train them to land on their shoulders as easily as on their fists (with adequate protective gear, to be sure).

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  4. Love the Falcons, my favourite is the Hobby even though it catches and eats dragonflies!
    Like you a sighting of a wild Gyr is high on my wish list.
    Used to wonder why my pet Budgie (when I was a kid) took lumps out of fingers, now we know thanks to DNA.

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    • I have seen hobbies a few times in Germany and find them very attractive, too, despite their diet…

      Your statement about your Budgie made me laugh. You are the second owner of a bird who blames their pet’s bad behavior on DNA. 🙂

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  5. I love the American Kestrel. There was one that perched in the same tree at one of our refuges for three years in a row. I have photos of it eating prey that it captured, but I was so surprised to see it, the photos didn’t turn out to be publishable. I often see crested caracaras. Here’s my favorite portrait of one.

    When I saw your title, I thought you were writing about Falco the musician. There’s a YouTube video of Opus & Falco performing “Rock Me Amadeus” live at Graz Liebenau in 1985 that’s really great.

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    • Good for you for seeing Crested Caracaras regularly, Linda. As I mentioned in the comments to your post about Aristophanes, it’s another reason to travel to Texas on a bird quest.

      And I had forgotten about the musician Falco, but after watching the YouTube video you recommended, some vague musical memory was rekindled. I don’t think I will become a fan, though. 🙂

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      • No, I’m not a fan, but “Rock Me, Amadeus” was such a huge hit here, you couldn’t avoid it. Apparently it got burned into my brain.

        We’re on one of the primary raptor flyways, and every fall the migrations are quite something. There’s an annual Hawkwatch over at the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge where the birds are counted daily for a month (or perhaps more), and the National Weather Service is good about alerting people to their presence via radar.


  6. I live with parrots, and now that you mention it – there is a resemblance! A google search for predatory parrots brought up the Kea and it’s huge ancestor. My two little Caique parrots can be quite fierce and bitey, and would happily kill my other birds if they got the chance!

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  7. I love falcons, Tanja. We have a friend who is a falconer, and my husband always had a secret desire to be one too. So our friend gave us a little kestrel to train. It was a very interesting experience, and quite a thrill to have her flying towards my hand. Until the day she decided love was more powerful . . .

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      • I started reading it just after the pandemic hit the US. Gave up after a 100 pages or so. Lots of birds I don’t know of, so I had to constantly Google which felt like a lot of work. 😁 But I think you’d enjoy it. Here’s a teaser for you: “The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there. Books about birds show pictures of the peregrine, and the text is full of information. Large and isolated in the gleaming whiteness of the page, the hawk stares back at you, bold, statuesque, brightly coloured. But when you have shut the book, you will never see that bird again. Compared with the close and static image, the reality will seem dull and disappointing. The living bird will never be so large, so shiny-bright. It will be deep in the landscape, and always sinking farther back, always at the point of being lost. Pictures are waxworks beside the passionate mobility of the living bird.”

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      • Thank you for introducing the book to me, Nirmala, and for copying the quote. I understand that it’s hard to follow something that means very little. I don’t mind looking up some information, but might not be in the mood to do it constantly. But I will definitely check it out and see if it appeals. Thanks again, and be well.

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