5 Falcons in Minnesota (With Pictures)

5 Falcons in Minnesota (With Pictures)

Falcons have long captured the imagination of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts in around the world. Known for their astonishing speed and precision, falcons thrive across Minnesota’s diverse landscapes, from the bustling cities to the serene wilderness.

Among the species observed here, the peregrine falcon stands out due to its remarkable recovery from near extinction in the mid-20th century. This success story highlights not only the resilience of these birds but also the concerted efforts of conservation programs that have helped stabilize their populations.

Minnesota’s rivers, lakes, and forests offer ideal habitats for falcons, providing ample opportunities for nesting and hunting. Throughout the state, these raptors can be seen diving at breakneck speeds to snatch up unsuspecting prey, a testament to their role as skilled predators in the natural ecosystem.

For anyone eager to explore the rich avian life of Minnesota, understanding these fascinating creatures offers a window into the complex interplay of nature’s most dynamic aerial performers.

1. Peregrine Falcon

  • Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
  • Life span: 8-15 years
  • Size: 14-19 inches (36-48 cm)
  • Weight: 1.1-3.3 pounds (500-1500 grams)
  • Wingspan: 3-4 feet (90-120 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Peregrine Falcon, known for its breathtaking speed and cosmopolitan range, is a global symbol of power and precision. Its distinctive black hood and mottled blue-gray feathers set it apart. Peregrines are masters of the sky, capable of reaching speeds exceeding 240 mph during their dramatic stoop hunting dives.

Found on every continent except Antarctica, these apex predators have made a remarkable recovery from endangered status thanks to conservation efforts, reclaiming their position as one of nature’s ultimate aerial hunters.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcons typically choose high elevations for nesting, such as tall urban buildings or natural cliff faces, to provide a strategic advantage for spotting and swooping down on prey. These birds create simple scrapes, shallow depressions in which they lay eggs, on ledges free of vegetation.

Their choice of nesting sites in Minnesota reflects a preference for high, undisturbed locations that offer safety from ground predators and a broad viewpoint of the surrounding area.

Peregrine falcons primarily prey on other birds, which they capture in flight. The versatility of their hunting territory in Minnesota, ranging from urban areas to open waterways, allows them access to a diverse bird population.

They are known for their incredible diving speed, striking prey in mid-air with a sudden, powerful impact that typically kills the prey instantly due to the force of the strike.

Peregrine falcons have made a remarkable recovery from the brink of extinction, thanks to bans on DDT and other harmful pesticides, along with concerted breeding and reintroduction efforts. In Minnesota, these conservation actions have been bolstered by public awareness campaigns and habitat protection measures, leading to a sustainable increase in peregrine falcon populations across the state.

2. American Kestrel

  • Scientific name: Falco sparverius
  • Life span: 5-10 years
  • Size: 8-12 inches (20-30 cm)
  • Weight: 2.8-5.8 ounces (80-164 grams)
  • Wingspan: 20-24 inches (51-61 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

Radiating a rustic charm, the American kestrel can be seen across North America, from the deep forests and rural fields to bustling suburbs. This smallest member of the falcon family in Minnesota wears a colourful plumage with a rusty orange back and tail, complemented by slate-blue wings.

Males display a striking contrast with a pair of black vertical slashes on their pale faces, often referred to as ‘moustache’ and ‘sideburns’. These vibrant birds add a splash of color to the landscape, fluttering gracefully as they scan the ground below from their perches.

American Kestrel

American kestrels utilize existing cavities for nesting, such as hollows in trees or abandoned structures, adapting them without adding much material. In Minnesota, these birds often benefit from nest box programs that provide additional options for safe nesting sites.

The selection of a nesting site involves both the male and female, with the female making the final decision, a process that emphasizes the kestrel’s adaptability and resourcefulness in urban and rural settings.

The diet of American kestrels is varied, including insects, small mammals, and occasionally small birds. Their ability to adapt their hunting strategy to seasonal changes in Minnesota is crucial for surviving varying climatic conditions. This adaptability helps them maintain a balanced diet throughout the year, utilizing the most abundant and accessible food sources during each season.

The decline in American kestrel populations due to habitat loss and pesticide exposure has prompted conservation efforts focused on habitat preservation and enhancement, such as the establishment of nest box programs. These initiatives in Minnesota aim to support kestrel populations by providing safe breeding environments and opportunities for population monitoring and research.

3. Merlin

  • Scientific name: Falco columbarius
  • Life span: 5-10 years
  • Size: 9-11 inches (23-28 cm)
  • Weight: 5-7 ounces (140-198 grams)
  • Wingspan: 20-26 inches (51-66 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The merlin, or ‘pigeon hawk’, is a robust, spirited bird of prey that frequents the northern forests and open areas of Minnesota. With a cosmopolitan range extending over North America, Europe, and Asia, Merlins have adapted well to various environments.

Their plumage is generally a subtle blend of dark browns and grays, with males typically showcasing a more blue-gray back. The species has a bolder look with streaks across its breast, giving it a somewhat stern appearance that belies its dynamic and swift nature as it maneuver through the air with remarkable agility.


Merlins repurpose the abandoned nests of other birds, such as crows and hawks, which are typically located high in trees to avoid ground threats. In Minnesota, this behaviour allows them to efficiently use available resources and focus energy on breeding and rearing young. The choice of elevated nests also provides a strategic advantage for hunting and protection.

Small birds make up the bulk of the Merlin’s diet, with these falcons employing a strategy of high-speed chases or stealthy ambush from a perch. In Minnesota, Merlins take advantage of the migratory routes and the abundance of local bird species, showcasing their predatory skills and agility in flight.

Merlins have generally adapted well to human-altered landscapes, which has lessened the immediate impact of habitat disruption compared to other raptor species. Conservation efforts in Minnesota have focused on preserving large tracts of forest and monitoring existing populations to ensure stable numbers, reflecting a less intensive need for intervention compared to other falcons.

4. Gyrfalcon

  • Scientific name: Falco rusticolus
  • Life span: 15-20 years
  • Size: 20-25 inches (51-64 cm)
  • Weight: 2-4 pounds (900-1800 grams)
  • Wingspan: 3-4 feet (90-120 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

The gyrfalcon, the largest of the falcon species, commands the tundra and arctic coasts of the Northern Hemisphere, venturing as a rare visitor into Minnesota during the colder months. It wears a majestic cloak of plumage that varies from a dappled white and gray in some to a dark slate in others, allowing it to blend seamlessly into the icy landscapes of its home range.

With its powerful build and commanding presence, the gyrfalcon reigns supreme in its northern kingdom, a ghostly figure against the stark landscapes, embodying the raw beauty and harsh realities of the Arctic.


Gyrfalcons nest primarily in the Arctic regions, using cliffs or rock outcrops similar to those favoured by other falcons. They occasionally visit Minnesota during migration, although they do not breed in the state. When nesting, they choose sites that offer extensive visibility and protection from the elements, a necessity in their harsh native habitat.

The diet of the Gyrfalcon includes a variety of Arctic birds and mammals. As occasional visitors to Minnesota during winter, their diet during these times consists mainly of local bird species and small mammals, showcasing their ability to adapt their hunting strategies to different environments.

Gyrfalcons are less impacted by global conservation issues due to their remote Arctic habitats; however, climate change poses a long-term threat to their nesting sites and prey availability. Efforts to monitor their populations and habitats are crucial for understanding the impacts of environmental changes on their survival.

5. Prairie Falcon

  • Scientific name: Falco mexicanus
  • Life span: 7-10 years
  • Size: 14-18 inches (35-45 cm)
  • Weight: 1-2 pounds (450-900 grams)
  • Wingspan: 35-43 inches (89-110 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

Prairie falcons, the embodiment of the wild, open spaces of North America, are found from the arid desert landscapes to the grasslands, and as migrants in Minnesota. Their appearance is dominated by a creamy underbody contrasted with dark brown spots, and pale brownish wings that gleam against the sunlight during flight.

This falcon’s stoic expression is highlighted by dark ‘whisker’ marks that streak down from the eyes, giving it a fierce and determined look as it soars across the sky, surveying the vast grasslands below.

Prairie Falcon

Prairie falcons choose nest sites in open landscapes, such as cliff faces or rocky outcrops, which offer panoramic views for detecting predators and prey. Their nests are simple, often just a scrape on a ledge, minimally lined with available materials. These falcons select nesting sites in less disturbed areas, emphasizing their need for expansive, open environments.

The prairie falcon’s diet primarily includes small mammals and birds, reflecting their hunting prowess in open spaces. In Minnesota, their hunting strategy involves long, powerful flights over open terrain, using their speed and agility to surprise and capture prey, a method suited to the open landscapes of the state.

Conservation efforts for prairie falcons involve habitat protection and monitoring of breeding sites. In Minnesota, maintaining the integrity of open landscapes is essential for the conservation of this species, emphasizing the importance of sustainable land use practices and protection of natural habitats to support their populations.

Where to look for Falcons in Minnesota

In Minnesota, the quest to spot falcons can lead you on an exciting journey through some of the state’s most stunning landscapes. These birds, especially peregrine falcons, are found in both urban and natural settings, making the state a prime area for birdwatching.

For those eager to catch a glimpse of these agile raptors, the Twin Cities offer some surprisingly good vantage points. The tall buildings in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul mimic the natural cliff environments that many falcons prefer for nesting. These urban centers are among the best places to observe their breathtaking hunting dives amid the cityscape.

Venturing outside the city, the Mississippi River cliffs near Red Wing provide another ideal habitat for falcons. This area, with its steep bluffs and plentiful water sources, attracts a variety of wildlife and offers a picturesque backdrop for falcon watching.

Another notable spot is the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth. This location is famous for its fall raptor migration, where falcons are frequently observed alongside other birds of prey. It’s a haven for enthusiasts looking to observe migration behaviours and interact with a community of fellow birdwatchers.

Finally, Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior offers a rugged, natural setting where falcons are often spotted against the dramatic views of the lake and forested cliffs. Here, the solitude and the expansive wilderness enhance the experience, making it unforgettable for nature lovers.


Minnesota’s diverse landscapes provide a rich tapestry for falcons, from the urban-dwelling peregrine to the migratory gyrfalcon. These birds of prey, each with distinct nesting behaviours, diets, and conservation needs, showcase the state’s ecological wealth and the critical importance of habitat conservation.

Efforts to monitor and protect falcon populations have led to notable successes, particularly for the peregrine falcon, highlighting the positive impact of targeted environmental policies and community involvement.

Fostering an environment where these majestic creatures can thrive not only preserves a vital part of our natural heritage but also enriches our interactions with the natural world around us.

Join the discussion