Falco mexicanus - Schlegel, 1851
Prairie Falcon
Other English Common Names: prairie falcon
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Falco mexicanus Schlegel, 1850 (TSN 175603)
French Common Names: faucon des prairies
Spanish Common Names: Halcón Mexicano
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.106120
Element Code: ABNKD06090
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Birds - Raptors
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Aves Falconiformes Falconidae Falco
Genus Size: D - Medium to large genus (21+ species)
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online: http://www.aou.org/.
Concept Reference Code: B98AOU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Falco mexicanus
Taxonomic Comments: See Olsen et al. (1989) for a study of relationships within the genus Falco based on electrophoretic patterns of feather proteins.
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 07Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 22Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Large range in western and central North America; mostly stable, with some local declines.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5B,N5N (05Jan1997)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N3B,N4N,N3M (06Dec2017)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Arizona (S4), Arkansas (SNA), California (S4), Colorado (S4B,S4N), Idaho (S4), Kansas (SNA), Minnesota (SNA), Missouri (SNA), Montana (S4), Navajo Nation (S4), Nebraska (S1), Nevada (S4), New Mexico (S4), North Dakota (S3), Oklahoma (S3), Oregon (S4), South Dakota (S3S4B,S4N), Texas (S3B), Utah (S4), Washington (S3B,S3N), Wyoming (S4B,S4N)
Canada Alberta (S3), British Columbia (S2), Manitoba (SNA), Saskatchewan (S3B,S3M,S3N)

Other Statuses

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Not at Risk (01Apr1996)
Comments on COSEWIC: Reason for designation: This species is present in Canada as a relatively small population with no evidence of decline.

Status history: Designated Not at Risk in April 1978, April 1982 and April 1996.

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix II

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: BREEDING: southeastern British Columbia, southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and northern North Dakota south to Baja California, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western and northern Texas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, and San Luis Potosi (AOU 1983, Lanning and Hitchcock 1991, Steenhof 1998); formerly also northwestern Missouri. NON-BREEDING: from breeding range in southern Canada south to Baja California and central Mexico (AOU 1983, Steenhof 1998). Most abundant in winter in the Great Basin and the central and central-southern latitudes of the Great Plains (Root 1988).

Population Size: 10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: An estimated 5000-6000 pairs attempted to breed annually in the late 1970s (Palmer 1988). Estimated number of breeding pairs in Canada in the early 1990s was 500 (Kirk et al. 1995).

Overall Threat Impact Comments: HUMAN DISTURBANCE: The effect of direct human disturbance depends on a number of factors, including the type of activity, proximity to the nest or roost site, time of year and duration of the activity (Steenhof 1998). Falcons are most sensitive just prior to egg laying. In certain cases, disturbance has negative effects (Platt 1974, Boyce 1982) while in others, there appears to be no significant effect (Edwards 1968, Holthuijzen 1989). Birds also seem able to habituate to aircraft (Harmata et al. 1978, Ellis et al. 1991) and even simulated sonic booms (Ellis et al. 1991). However, large-scale and complex disturbances, such as military tank training, can disrupt foraging behavior and efficiency (Steenhof 1998). Prolonged disturbance is more harmful than periodic, short-term disturbance (Bednarz 1984). GRAZING: The effects of livestock grazing are neither simple nor well understood. The removal of vegetation may impact prey populations, especially in drought years (Steenhof 1998). Grazing also increases the invasion of sites by exotic invasive plants, such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), which increase fire return intervals and accelerate the loss of native vegetation (Steenhof 1998, Wisdom et al. 2000). On the other hand, grazing removes vegetation which in some cases may make prey more available to falcons (Anderson and Squires 1997). However, this short-term, local benefit may be offset by negative effects at larger scales and in longer time frames. INVASIVE EXOTICS: In Idaho, home ranges had a lower cover of exotic annual grasses, primarily cheatgrass, than expected by chance (Marzluff et al. 1997). ENERGY DEVELOPMENT: Prairie Falcons appear to be relatively tolerant of oil and gas (Harmata 1991, Squires et al. 1993) and coal development (Phillips et al. 1990) in foraging areas, except where nest sites are destroyed or direct human disturbance is excessive. Falcons forage in spaces among oil wells where well densities were 1.5 wells per sq km (Anderson and Squires 1997). But the latter site was remote and not frequented by humans. This implies that it is direct human disturbance, not development per se, that is most harmful. RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER SPECIES: Falcons are notably tolerant of the Common Raven (Corvus corax) throughout its range (Cade, 1987, Steenhof 1998). Falcons frequently lay eggs in old raven stick nests. As raven populations and distribution are increasing, this may be a management factor deserving more attention. Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos, Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) typically are not tolerated by falcons near nesting territories (Platt 1974, Harmata et al. 1978, Kaiser 1986, Holthuijzen 1989). These species prey on Prairie Falcon adults and nestlings. Peregrine Falcons often attack Prairie Falcons that enter a peregrine's territory (Porter and White 1973, Walton 1978). Thus, management actions to benefit these other raptor species may be detrimental to Prairie Falcon populations. SHOOTING: Shooting is the most commonly reported source of adult mortality (Webster 1944, Enderson 1964, van Tighem 1967). Shooting near nests also may cause adults to leave the nests temporarily, exposing eggs or nestlings to additional mortality (Harmata et al. 1978). PREDATORS: Mammalian predators, primarily coyotes (Canis latrans) and bobcats (Lynx rufus), are the main predators of falcon nests where nests are accessible (Steenhof 1998). DISEASE: Rock Doves (Columba livia) infected with trichomoniasis and herpesvirus can spread the infections to falcons when Rock Doves are consumed (Aini et al. 1993, Steenhof 1998). The impact of these diseases on falcon populations is not known. ELECTROCUTION: Electrocution is apparently uncommon (Steenhof 1998). FALCONRY: Legally harvested in 19 states (Conway et al. 1995). Although state agencies set harvest guidelines, these often are established without adequate data or analysis of population impacts. Steenhof (1998) states that the low level of harvest, about 0.2% of the population annually, probably does not affect overall population size. However, adults disturbed by harvest show lower inter-year territory fidelity (Conway et al. 1995). COLLISIONS: Collisions with wires, and fences in particular, cause some mortality, particularly during the fast, low foraging flights (Boyce 1982, Beauvais et al. 1992). Falcons also collide with vehicles. STOCK TANKS: Adults have been known to drown in stock watering tanks (Enderson 1964). ECTOPARASITES: Several ectoparasites contribute to nestling mortality and subsequent reproductive failure (review in Steenhof 1998). PESTICIDES: Susceptible to eggshell thinning from DDE (Noble and Elliot 1990) and may have had more recent reproductive failure as a result of hexachlorobenzene and DDE (Jarman et al. 1996). Although Prairie Falcons eat more mammals than birds, the species may be vulnerable to organophosphates and carbamates where it feeds on birds in agricultural areas (Kirk and Banasch 1996). Heptachlor epoxide and mercury residues also have been detected in falcons. These chemicals are used to treat wheat seeds and were presumable picked up by birds such as Horned Larks. Neither contaminant was thought to be high enough to affect the population level in the study area (Fyfe et al. 1969, 1976).

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: Appears secure overall, although there have been local declines. In Canada, Woodsworth and Freemark (1982) concluded that populations were increasing in the early 1980s; trend was reported as "stable" by Kirk et al. (1995).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDING: southeastern British Columbia, southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and northern North Dakota south to Baja California, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western and northern Texas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, and San Luis Potosi (AOU 1983, Lanning and Hitchcock 1991, Steenhof 1998); formerly also northwestern Missouri. NON-BREEDING: from breeding range in southern Canada south to Baja California and central Mexico (AOU 1983, Steenhof 1998). Most abundant in winter in the Great Basin and the central and central-southern latitudes of the Great Plains (Root 1988).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AR, AZ, CA, CO, ID, KS, MN, MO, MT, ND, NE, NM, NN, NV, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY
Canada AB, BC, MB, SK

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002; WILDSPACETM 2002

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AZ Apache (04001)
CA Alameda (06001), Amador (06005)*, Colusa (06011)*, Contra Costa (06013), Fresno (06019), Imperial (06025)*, Inyo (06027)*, Kern (06029), Kings (06031)*, Lake (06033), Lassen (06035), Los Angeles (06037), Madera (06039)*, Mariposa (06043)*, Merced (06047), Modoc (06049), Mono (06051), Monterey (06053), Napa (06055), Plumas (06063)*, Riverside (06065)*, San Benito (06069), San Bernardino (06071), San Diego (06073), San Luis Obispo (06079), Santa Barbara (06083)*, Santa Clara (06085), Sierra (06091)*, Siskiyou (06093), Stanislaus (06099), Tehama (06103)*, Tuolumne (06109), Ventura (06111)*, Yolo (06113)
ID Ada (16001), Bonneville (16019), Butte (16023), Canyon (16027), Cassia (16031), Clark (16033), Custer (16037), Elmore (16039), Franklin (16041), Gooding (16047), Idaho (16049), Jefferson (16051), Lemhi (16059), Lincoln (16063), Nez Perce (16069), Oneida (16071), Owyhee (16073), Power (16077), Teton (16081)
ND Billings (38007), Dunn (38025), Golden Valley (38033), McKenzie (38053), Mercer (38057), Slope (38087)
NE Banner (31007), Box Butte (31013), Cheyenne (31033), Dawes (31045), Garden (31069), Morrill (31123), Scotts Bluff (31157), Sheridan (31161), Sioux (31165)
NM Mckinley (35031), Otero (35035), San Juan (35045), Sandoval (35043)
OK Beaver (40007)*, Blaine (40011)*, Cimarron (40025), Dewey (40043)*, Harper (40059), Major (40093), McClain (40087), Tillman (40141)
SD Custer (46033), Fall River (46047), Harding (46063), Jackson (46071), Meade (46093), Pennington (46103), Shannon (46113)*
UT San Juan (49037)
WA Adams (53001)+, Asotin (53003)+, Benton (53005)+, Columbia (53013)+, Douglas (53017)+, Franklin (53021)+, Garfield (53023)+, Grant (53025)+, Kittitas (53037)+, Klickitat (53039)+, Lincoln (53043)+, Okanogan (53047)+, Spokane (53063)+, Walla Walla (53071)+, Whitman (53075)+, Yakima (53077)+
WY Albany (56001), Big Horn (56003)*, Campbell (56005)*, Carbon (56007), Converse (56009)*, Crook (56011)*, Fremont (56013), Goshen (56015)*, Hot Springs (56017), Johnson (56019)*, Laramie (56021)*, Lincoln (56023), Natrona (56025), Niobrara (56027)*, Park (56029)*, Platte (56031)*, Sheridan (56033)*, Sublette (56035), Sweetwater (56037), Teton (56039), Uinta (56041)*, Washakie (56043)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
10 Yellowstone Headwaters (10070001)+*, Clarks Fork Yellowstone (10070006)+*, Upper Wind (10080001)+, Little Wind (10080002)+, Popo Agie (10080003)+*, Lower Wind (10080005)+*, Badwater (10080006)+*, Upper Bighorn (10080007)+, Nowood (10080008)+, Big Horn Lake (10080010)+*, Dry (10080011)+*, North Fork Shoshone (10080012)+*, South Fork Shoshone (10080013)+*, Shoshone (10080014)+*, Upper Tongue (10090101)+*, Middle Fork Powder (10090201)+*, Upper Powder (10090202)+*, South Fork Powder (10090203)+*, Salt (10090204)+*, Crazy Woman (10090205)+*, Clear (10090206)+*, Middle Powder (10090207)+*, Little Powder (10090208)+*, Lower Yellowstone (10100004)+, Lake Sakakawea (10110101)+, Upper Little Missouri (10110201)+*, Middle Little Missouri (10110203)+, Lower Little Missouri (10110205)+, Lance (10120104)+*, Angostura Reservoir (10120106)+, Hat (10120108)+, Middle Cheyenne-Spring (10120109)+, Middle Cheyenne-Elk (10120111)+, Upper Belle Fourche (10120201)+*, Lower Belle Fourche (10120202)+*, Redwater (10120203)+*, Knife (10130201)+, North Fork Grand (10130301)+, South Fork Grand (10130302)+, Upper Moreau (10130305)+, Bad (10140102)+, Upper White (10140201)+, Middle White (10140202)+, Niobrara Headwaters (10150002)+, Upper Niobrara (10150003)+, Upper North Platte (10180002)+, Pathfinder-Seminoe Reservoirs (10180003)+*, Medicine Bow (10180004)+, Little Medicine Bow (10180005)+, Sweetwater (10180006)+, Middle North Platte-Casper (10180007)+, Glendo Reservoir (10180008)+*, Middle North Platte-Scotts Bluff (10180009)+, Upper Laramie (10180010)+, Lower Laramie (10180011)+*, Horse (10180012)+*, Pumpkin (10180013)+, Cache La Poudre (10190007)+*, Lone Tree-Owl (10190008)+*, Crow (10190009)+, Upper Lodgepole (10190015)+*, Lower Lodgepole (10190016)+, Sidney Draw (10190017)+
11 Cimarron headwaters (11040001)+*, Upper Cimarron (11040002)+, Upper Cimarron-Liberal (11040006)+*, Upper Cimarron-Bluff (11040008)+*, Lower Cimarron-Eagle Chief (11050001)+, Lower Cimarron-Skeleton (11050002)+*, Upper Beaver (11100101)+, Lower Beaver (11100201)+, Middle North Canadian (11100301)+*, Blue-China (11130102)+, West Cache (11130203)+, Middle Washita (11130303)+
13 Jemez (13020202)+, Tularosa Valley (13050003)+
14 Upper Green (14040101)+, New Fork (14040102)+, Upper Green-Slate (14040103)+, Big Sandy (14040104)+, Bitter (14040105)+, Upper Green-Flaming Gorge Reservoir (14040106)+, Blacks Fork (14040107)+, Muddy (14040108)+*, Great Divide closed basin (14040200)+, Muddy (14050004)+*, Chaco (14080106)+, Lower San Juan (14080205)+
15 Upper Puerco (15020006)+, Havasu-Mohave Lakes (15030101)+*, Piute Wash (15030102)+*, Imperial Reservoir (15030104)+*
16 Upper Bear (16010101)+*, Middle Bear (16010202)+, Lower Bear-Malad (16010204)+, Curlew Valley (16020309)+, Ivanpah-Pahrump Valleys (16060015)+*
17 Chief Joseph (17020005), Okanogan (17020006), Methow (17020008), Upper Columbia-Entiat (17020010), Moses Coulee (17020012), Upper Crab (17020013), Banks Lake (17020014), Lower Crab (17020015), Upper Columbia-Priest Rapids (17020016), Upper Yakima (17030001), Naches (17030002), Lower Yakima, Washington (17030003), Snake headwaters (17040101)+*, Gros Ventre (17040102)+*, Greys-Hobock (17040103)+, Salt (17040105)+*, Idaho Falls (17040201)+, Teton (17040204)+, Willow (17040205)+, Lake Walcott (17040209)+, Raft (17040210)+, Upper Snake-Rock (17040212)+, Beaver-Camas (17040214)+, Birch (17040216)+, Little Lost (17040217)+, Big Lost (17040218)+, Big Wood (17040219)+, C. J. Idaho (17050101)+, Bruneau (17050102)+, Middle Snake-Succor (17050103)+, Upper Owyhee (17050104)+, South Fork Owyhee (17050105)+, Middle Owyhee (17050107)+, Jordan (17050108)+, Lower Boise (17050114)+, Lower Snake-Asotin (17060103), Lower Snake-Tucannon (17060107), Palouse (17060108), Rock (17060109), Lower Snake (17060110), Upper Salmon (17060201)+, Pahsimeroi (17060202)+, Middle Salmon-Panther (17060203)+, Lower Salmon (17060209)+, Middle Columbia-Lake Wallula (17070101), Middle Columbia-Hood (17070105)
18 Lost (18010204)+, Butte (18010205)+*, Upper Klamath (18010206)+, Shasta (18010207)+*, Scott (18010208)+*, Goose Lake (18020001)+*, Upper Pit (18020002)+, Lower Pit (18020003)+*, Upper Stony (18020115)+*, Upper Cache (18020116)+, East Branch North Fork Feather (18020122)+*, Middle Fork Feather (18020123)+*, Thomes Creek-Sacramento River (18020156)+*, Upper Putah (18020162)+, South Fork Kern (18030002)+*, Middle Kern-Upper Tehachapi- (18030003)+, Upper Dry (18030009)+, Upper King (18030010)+*, Tulare-Buena Vista Lakes (18030012)+, Middle San Joaquin-Lower (18040001)+, Middle San Joaquin-Lower (18040002)+, San Joaquin Delta (18040003)+, Upper San Joaquin (18040006)+*, Upper Merced (18040008)+*, Upper Stanislaus (18040010)+, Upper Mokelumne (18040012)+*, Panoche-San Luis Reservoir (18040014)+, Suisun Bay (18050001)+, San Pablo Bay (18050002)+*, San Francisco Bay (18050004)+, Pajaro (18060002)+*, Carrizo Plain (18060003)+, Estrella (18060004)+*, Salinas (18060005)+, Central Coastal (18060006)+*, Cuyama (18060007)+*, Carmel (18060012)+*, Santa Clara (18070102)+*, Santa Margarita (18070302)+*, San Luis Rey-Escondido (18070303)+*, San Diego (18070304)+*, Cottonwood-Tijuana (18070305)+, Surprise Valley (18080001)+, Madeline Plains (18080002)+*, Honey-Eagle Lakes (18080003)+, Mono Lake (18090101)+, Crowley Lake (18090102)+*, Eureka-Saline Valleys (18090201)+*, Upper Amargosa (18090202)+*, Panamint Valley (18090204)+*, Indian Wells-Searles Valleys (18090205)+*, Antelope-Fremont Valleys (18090206)+, Coyote-Cuddeback Lakes (18090207)+, Mojave (18090208)+, Southern Mojave (18100100)+, Whitewater River (18100201)+*, Carrizo Creek (18100202)+, San Felipe Creek (18100203)+, Salton Sea (18100204)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A brown falcon.
General Description: A medium-sized falcon with pointed wings, a hooked bill, and conspicuous (in flight) dark patches near the body on the underside of the wings (axillaries and coverts); adults are pale brown above, whitish with heavy spotting below; head has narrow dark streak extending downward from each eye; immatures are buffy below; average length 39-50 cm, wingspan 89-109 cm (NGS 1983).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Differs from all other North American falcons in having dark patches in the "wingpits." Paler above than peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and merlin (Falco columbarius). Lacks the heavy dark wedge on the side of the face of the peregrine falcon.
Reproduction Comments: Laying may begin as early as February in Texas and Mexico; March in California, Washington, Arizona, and Oregon; April in Montana and Wyoming. Clutch size usually is 4-5. Incubation lasts 29-33 days, mostly by female (male brings food). Young are tended by both parents, remain at nest site 36-41 days. First breeds usually at 2 years (sometimes 1 year).
Ecology Comments: Annual mortality estimated at 74% in immatures, 25% in adults (see Evans 1982). Recorded nesting density: 23 pairs on 26 kilometers of cliffs in Colorado, 101 pairs in 72 kilometers along Snake River, Idaho (see Palmer 1988).

Defend relatively small areas around the nest site. These may extend 300 - 400 meters around the typical cliff nest and about 100 meters above the site (Ogden and Hornocker 1977, Harmata et al. 1978, Kaiser 1986).

Foraging areas are large, overlapping and not defended (Haak 1982, Squires 1986, Hunt 1993). Steenhof (1998) reports nesting season home ranges from six studies that ranged from 59 - 314 square kilometers.

Where nesting cliffs are suitable and continuous, will nest at higher densities than most other large North American falcons (Steenhof 1998). At higher densities, nest sites tend to be visually isolated from one another (Anderson and Squires 1997). Densities of nesting falcons ranged from 0.2 pair per kilometer of linear cliff in Montana (DuBois 1984) to 0.66 pair per km in southwestern Idaho, with some stretches of canyon in Idaho having 4.3 pair per kilometer (Steenhof 1988).

Winter home ranges are much smaller than breeding season home ranges but still averaged over 30 square kilometers in Colorado (Beauvais et al. 1992). Winter roosts may be far from winter foraging areas, much as nest sites may be far from breeding season foraging areas.

Fidelity to breeding territories is very high in some areas. Runde (1987) reports an average 88% return rate in Colorado, Wyoming, and Alberta with Alberta females returning at a very high rate (96%). Return rates in Idaho, where nest sites and mates are at high densities, were substantially lower.

Habitat Type: Terrestrial
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Some birds winter in breeding range, some migrate south as far as central Mexico, and, in the mountains, some birds migrate to lower elevations. See Palmer (1988) for details.
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Alpine, Cliff, Cropland/hedgerow, Desert, Grassland/herbaceous
Habitat Comments: Primarily open situations, especially in mountainous areas, steppe, plains or prairies (AOU 1983). Typically nests in pot hole or well-sheltered ledge on rocky cliff or steep earth embankment, 10 to more than 100 meters above base. May nest in man-made excavations on otherwise unsuitable cliffs (Cade 1982). Vertical cliffs with rock structure overhanging the site are preferred. Nests typically are placed on south-facing aspects, with overhangs offering some protection from solar radiation. May use old nest of raven, hawk, eagle, etc. Commonly changes nest site within territory in successive years (see Palmer 1988). In Mojave Desert, remote nests had higher productivity than did nests that were closer to human activity (Boyce 1988).

During winter, falcons use a number of other habitats that are not typical of those used during the breeding season. Dryland wheat fields, irrigated winter wheat and other irrigated croplands also are used for foraging in winter (Enderson 1964, White and Roseneau 1970, Parker 1972, Beauvais et al. 1992). In all cases, large patches with low vegetation stature characterize the habitats used. Depend on Horned Larks (Enderson 1964) and grassland species in general (Schmutz et al. 1991) for prey. Early successional stages, low vegetation height and large percentages of bare ground are an inferred requirement.

The use of forested habitat during migration by some Canadian birds (Schmutz et al. 1991) appears to be rare, but use of these habitats is little studied.

Adult Food Habits: Carnivore
Immature Food Habits: Carnivore
Food Comments: Primarily feeds opportunistically on mammals (especially ground squirrels), lizards, and birds, generally up to size of quail and rabbits. In southwestern Idaho, reproduction is closely linked to the abundance of the ground squirrel Spermophilus mollis. Even following a prolonged crash in ground squirrel populations, and in the absence of important alternate prey, falcons continued to seek ground squirrels (Steenhof and Kochert 1988). Had a much more specialized diet than other raptors in southwestern Idaho and variation among individuals was low (Steenhof 1998). Ground squirrel populations fluctuate with drought cycles, thus potentially affecting productivity and population trends (Van Horne et al. 1997).

In winter, often takes Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) on fields of winter wheat. Young may take large insects.

Usually captures prey on or near ground; rapidly pursues birds in flight (see Palmer 1988 for many details). May cache prey in vegetation, on ledge, or in small crevice or cavity; caching most common during early brood rearing.

Length: 50 centimeters
Weight: 975 grams
Economic Attributes
Economic Comments: Harvested for use in falconry in several states.
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Prairie Falcons nest successfully in a wide array of landscapes and open, low-stature vegetation types as long as two main features are available: suitable nest sites, primarily cliffs; and an adequate prey base, primarily ground squirrels. Large home ranges during the breeding season (59 - 314 square kilometers) and wintering season (30 square kilometers) dictate management based at the landscape level, not at the site level. Nesting birds are relatively tolerant of human activities that do not occur close to the nest and that are not persistent. Loss of ground squirrel populations and their habitats may be the single biggest factor impacting falcon populations.
Restoration Potential: Will use artificial nest sites excavated or blasted into cliff faces. Construction of artificial nest sites has been effective where natural sites are limited but other features of the cliff and the surrounding landscape, particularly the prey base, are suitable (Fyfe and Armbruster 1977, Boyce et al. 1980, Mayer and Licht 1995). As nesting densities frequently are limited by site availability (Squires 1986), this provides a management tool to attract falcons into areas with insufficient nest sites. Prairie Falcons also use "high walls" that can be left behind following coal strip mining (Anderson and Squires 1997). This practice creates artificial cliffs where none existed before. Artificial nest sites should be on south-facing exposures and 2/3 of the way up the cliff face. The floor area of the site should be 7000 sq cm, with a 5-10% slope toward the front. Other characteristics are given by Runde and Anderson (1986), Runde (1987) and Anderson and Squires (1997).

Falcons can be bred in captivity but the reintroduction of captive Prairie Falcons has been very limited (Granger 1977, Anderson and Squires 1997). All evidence is that such extreme measures are not needed or useful at this time, given the many other characteristics of the species that make it amenable to a variety of habitat management actions.

Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: NEST SITES: Will use a variety of landscapes and vegetation types if suitable nest sites are available. The most common type of nest site is a cliff, ledge, rock cavity, isolated rock outcrop or similar site. However, some birds will use trees, power poles or even buildings (Steenhof 1998).

NEST SITE AREA REQUIREMENTS: The size of the nest site territory is not as important from a spatial management standpoint as is the size of the areas required for foraging. Some stretches of canyon in Idaho have nesting densities as high as 4.3 pairs per kilometer (Steenhof 1998). This density might serve as an upper limit for management objectives in areas that are suitable for nesting falcons.

FORAGING AREA REQUIREMENTS: Foraging areas are large, overlapping and not defended (Haak 1982, Squires 1986, Hunt 1993). Steenhof (1998) reports nesting season home ranges from six studies that ranged from 59-314 square kilometers.

Populations are strongly dependent on populations of ground squirrels during the breeding season, especially SPERMOPHILUS species. Thus, maintaining healthy source populations of Prairie Falcons is directly dependent on managing habitat for ground squirrels. The ground squirrels almost uniformly thrive in early successional vegetation. Popular secondary prey species, Horned Lark (EREMOPHILA ALPESTRIS) and Western Meadowlark (STURNELLA NEGLECTA), also are common in low stature, early successional types. Falcons take most prey on or near the ground by "strafing" wherein birds fly fast at only 3-6 m above the ground and surprise prey items (Phipps 1979, Squires et al. 1989, Steenhof 1998). Thus, falcons must have clear vision of the ground level, unobstructed by tall and/or dense vegetation (Brown and Amadon 1968, Haak 1982, Peterson 1988, Squires 1986, Squires et al. 1993). Many North American habitat types generally meet this description: shrub-steppe desert, grasslands, tundra, and arid plains. Periods of higher than average precipitation may affect foraging efficiency in some vegetation types when vegetation grows taller and more dense (Steenhof 1998).

Core use areas in Alberta had lower proportions of irrigated cropland than expected by chance (Hunt 1993) and prey biomass is lower in agricultural lands. This suggests that fragmentation caused by this factor at least, may have adverse effects. Simulations for southwestern Idaho (Steenhof 1998) predicted that loss of as little as 15% of the land to agricultural conversion could reduce falcon productivity below replacement levels. Although large-scale agricultural development is implicated in population declines in several areas (reviewed in Steenhof 1998), small-scale agriculture may benefit falcon populations when it provides edge for prey populations (Harmata 1991, Hunt 1993, Marzluff et al. 1997).

During winter, and in some geographic areas during the breeding season, individuals hunted most often from perches (Enderson 1964, Phipps 1979) or by soaring (Kaiser 1986). This suggests that in some cases, birds could persist in smaller habitat patches, other factors being equal.

High levels of site fidelity suggest that in many nesting areas, it is important to protect the nesting territory and adjacent foraging sites with permanent, long-term strategies and not force birds to move among years or expect them to disperse and breed successfully elsewhere when habitat conditions deteriorate. Although data on fidelity to winter sites is much more limited, those data also suggest a strong site fidelity. Thus, identification and proper management of winter sites also may be important.
Management Requirements: NEST SITES: Because nest sites are relatively specialized and because site fidelity is high, the protection of nest sites obviously is a high priority. In geographic areas where inventories for nesting falcons have not been conducted, topographic maps will provide excellent information on cliffs that might support breeding birds. All known and potential nesting cliffs should be considered for conservation action.

GROUND SQUIRREL PREY POPULATIONS: Ground squirrel prey populations are as essential to falcons as are good nest sites. Ground squirrel populations can be lost or greatly reduced when habitat is altered by conversion to agricultural lands, improper livestock grazing, invasion of exotic vegetation or by other activities. As reviewed above, certain small-scale agricultural conversions may be beneficial to ground squirrels but large-scale conversions are almost certainly detrimental. Poisoning of ground squirrel populations has been underway for many years in many geographic areas and this activity likely has contributed to severely reduced populations of several ground squirrel species (Wisdom et al. 2000). Management to protect, enhance and restore ground squirrel populations in key areas should be considered.

FORAGING AREA REQUIREMENTS: The large breeding season and winter foraging areas (30 - 314 sq km) give us a clear perspective on the geographic scale of areas where falcons are to be conserved. Although falcons do not use all the areas within these large home ranges, land managers truly must think in terms of managing landscapes, not sites.

HUMAN DISTURBANCE: Limiting the types and levels of human activities near nests has been a common management strategy, particularly among federal land management agencies. Suter and Joness (1981) recommended buffer zones of 1 km around nests while Becker and Ball (1981) recommended 400 m. Holthuijzen et al. (1990) found that blasting need not be restricted at distances greater than 125 meters from occupied nests. Land management agencies use quasi-standardized distances for oil and gas development, coal development and other activities. Birds can tolerate some development in foraging habitat if nest sites are not overly disturbed (Anderson and Squires 1997). Where nesting falcons occur in high densities, permanent protection of the nesting cliffs, with sufficient buffers, should be sought.

GRAZING: The effects of livestock grazing are not simple and likely vary by region, soil type, vegetation type and many other factors. Thus, it is necessary to study the relationships among the grazing programs, the vegetation and the prey populations to determine the best course of action on any particular site.

INVASIVE EXOTICS: Fire management, livestock management and other actions to slow or stop the spread of invasive exotic plants is critical to the future quality of Prairie Falcon foraging habitat in southern Idaho and other areas susceptible to dominance by weedy species (Marzluff et al. 1997, Wisdom et al. 2000). Direct habitat restoration likely will be required in some areas to augment and rebuild falcon foraging habitat.

ENERGY DEVELOPMENT: Where coal, oil and gas development has occurred, it may be direct human disturbance (see above) more than the physical alteration of the land that impacts falcons. Thus, buffer zones and seasonal restrictions of the timing of human activity and site occupancy may be the most critical factors to manage.

In the United States, management of oil and gas, coal, oil shale, phosphate and other leasable minerals is regulated under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (43 CFR 3000). The best opportunity to protect habitat comes during federal land use planning (USDA Forest Service 2000, USDI Bureau of Land Management 2000a, b). Objectives, standards and guidelines can be incorporated into the Management Situation Analysis and for coal, the Unsuitability Criteria. Where necessary for maximum protection, plans can allocate areas to No Surface Disturbance or Unsuitability. Another opportunity to protect habitat from the adverse effects of these developments occurs during the leasing process. A Notice of Intent is required for exploratory activity that can be very disruptive in the short-term on local sites. Stipulations that protect an area from disturbance during a particular period of the year or that require buffer zones also can be specified. These and other restrictions can be placed as Conditions of Approval when an Application for Permit to Drill is filed, in the case of oil and gas development. Once enough successful wells (5-6) are in place, then a Plan of Development is required for the field. Detailed NEPA analysis is required at this stage and a variety of mitigation measures can be negotiated.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER SPECIES: Because falcons are tolerant of Common Ravens and use old raven nests, raven management should be carefully considered where they do, or could, co-occur with falcons. Conversely, Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, and Peregrine Falcons all are detrimental to Prairie Falcon populations. Tradeoffs in management of these various species must be carefully weighed.

PREDATORS: The chief mammalian predators of Prairie Falcon nests and nestlings (coyotes and bobcats) are common and widespread. As with most predator issues, the best approach to minimize predation is to provide high-quality habitat for the focal species. In this case, the provision and protection of good nest sites is the best strategy.

DISEASE: The impact of Rock Doves infected with trichomoniasis and herpesvirus on falcon populations is not known. However, Rock Dove control should be an obvious option where these doves are nesting in the wild on cliffs frequented by falcons or where they are otherwise available to falcons as prey.

SHOOTING: Shooting can be prevented through a constant program to educate the public on the value of falcons and the illegality of shooting them. Road access to areas where falcons need further protection from shooting can be eliminated or reduced.

ELECTROCUTION: Electrocution losses can be eliminated or greatly reduced by continuing to pursue programs that make power lines and facilities raptor safe (Avian Power Line Interaction Committee 1996).

FALCONRY: Although Steenhof (1998) states that the low level of harvest probably does not affect overall population size, disturbance at the nest site (Conway et al. 1995) does have impacts and should be further investigated. Further, in the absence of population data sufficient to model impacts, the continued harvest of wild birds for falconry must be questioned.

COLLISIONS: Elimination of fences in important foraging habitats could reduce this source of mortality. Unfortunately, this is apt to be impractical in many areas. Placing marker balls on wires to minimize collision mortality (Anderson and Squires 1997) might also be effective for problem sites. Where vehicle collisions are a problem, road closures, rerouting or signing (i.e., "Falcon Crossing") should be considered.

STOCK TANKS: Federal land management agencies have policies to provide escape ramps in livestock watering tanks. These policies and their enforcement should be examined for all land within the range of the Prairie Falcon. Similar policies should be implemented on grazing lands controlled by state agencies. Education and encouragement for private landowners also should be pursued.

ECTOPARASITES: Several ectoparasites contribute to nestling mortality and subsequent reproductive failure (review in Steenhof 1998). Hand treatment of nestlings to kill parasites is one option to improve nest success.

PESTICIDES: The use of pesticides known to be harmful to falcons should be discouraged or eliminated in foraging areas where falcons nest and winter. Although this may be impractical on a broad basis, it should be pursued where falcons concentrate and where agricultural lands are interspersed with frequently used native vegetation.

Monitoring Requirements: Christmas Bird Count (http://birdsource.cornell.edu/cbc/index.html#Reports) and North American Breeding Bird Survey (Sauer et al. 2001) both provide information on population trends of Prairie Falcons. Although neither technique is well suited for falcons or raptors in general, trends calculated over large geographic areas, such as the West or North America, may have some validity. Specially designed migration counts, such as those conducted by HawkWatch International (Hoffman et al. 1992), provide the best information on population trends. However, migration counts assess trends over large, and substantially undefined, geographic regions.

Population/Occurrence Delineation
Use Class: Breeding
Subtype(s): Foraging area, Nest site
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of breeding (including historical); and potential recurring breeding at a given location, minimally a reliable observation of one or more breeding pairs with occupied nests in appropriate habitat. Occurrence includes not only the nest sites, but also the surrounding areas used for feeding during the nesting season.
Mapping Guidance: Although separations are based on nest sites, occurrences include nesting areas as well as foraging areas. Foraging areas for different occurrences may overlap.

Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 20 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 20 km
Alternate Separation Procedure: Where an occurrence is at least twice the size of a minimum A-ranked occurrence, it may be divided into two or more A-ranked occurrences along divisions that are narrower (or absent) than the separation distances given. The dividing lines should be made as much as possible along lines of limited falcon use; for example, along major urban areas or very wide bodies of water.
Separation Justification: Occurrences represent relatively distinct clusters of one or more nest sites and do not necessarily represent demographically distinct populations. Occurrence separation is based on nest sites; nest sites separated by a gap smaller than the separation distance represent the same occurrence.

Breeding home ranges vary a great deal: Idaho, 26-142 square kilometers (U. S. Bureau of Land Management 1979), southern California 31-78 square kilometers (Harmata et al. 1978), northern California 34-389 square kilometers (Haak 1982), Wyoming 26 square kilometers (Craighead and Craighead 1956), 59 to 314 square kilometers (six studies reported by Steenhof 1998). Squires et al. (1993) found that prairie falcons typically forage within 10 km of nests during the breeding season.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 8.7 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Based on a relatively small home range of 59 square kilometers (Steenhof 1998).
Date: 24Sep2004
Author: Cannings, S., and G. Hammerson

Use Class: Nonbreeding
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of recurring presence of wintering individuals outside their breeding area (including historical); and potential recurring presence at a given location. Occurrences should be areas where more than one individual is resident for some time during the appropriate season; it is preferable to have observations documenting presence over at least 20 days annually. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single events
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 15 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 15 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance somewhat arbitrary; nonbreeding occurrences based primarily on concentrations of wintering individuals, rather than on distinct populations.
Date: 16Apr2002
Author: Cannings, S.
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
Management Information Edition Date: 08Oct2001
Management Information Edition Author: RICH, T., MINOR REVISIONS BY D. MEHLMAN AND S. CANNINGS.
Management Information Acknowledgments: Funding for the preparation of this abstract was provided by the Department of Defense, Partners in Flight Program, through The Nature Conservancy, Wings of the Americas Program.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 30Mar1995
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): HAMMERSON, G., REVISED BY S. CANNINGS

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