5 Falcons in Wisconsin (With Pictures)

5 Falcons in Wisconsin (With Pictures)

In the heart of the American Midwest lies a world teeming with avian wonders, and among these remarkable creatures are the falcons of Wisconsin. These magnificent birds of prey have captured the imaginations of birdwatchers, naturalists, and conservationists alike, with their breathtaking aerial displays and formidable hunting skills.

As the state’s landscapes transition from expansive forests to rolling plains, marshlands, and rivers, a diverse range of falcon species call Wisconsin home, each uniquely adapted to its specific environment.

In this article, we embark on a journey into the captivating world of Wisconsin’s falcons. From the iconic Peregrine Falcon, with its astonishing speeds and cityscapes as hunting grounds, to the elusive and enigmatic Prairie Falcon, we delve into the lives, habits, and conservation status of these raptors.

Discover their role in maintaining ecological balance, their historical significance, and the ongoing efforts to protect these majestic hunters of the sky.

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 uncommon

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.

Close-up of a peregrine falcon

The Peregrine Falcon, renowned for its speed, exhibits fascinating nesting behavior in Wisconsin. These falcons prefer lofty heights for their nests, choosing ledges on high cliffs or tall buildings in urban areas. This choice provides a strategic advantage, offering safety from predators and an excellent vantage point for hunting.

The female Peregrine takes on the responsibility of incubating the eggs, while the male plays the role of the provider, bringing food to the nest. This division of labor showcases not only their adaptability to various environments but also their dedication to the next generation.

Peregrine Falcons in Wisconsin have a diet that underscores their status as apex predators. They primarily feed on other birds, including pigeons, ducks, and songbirds, which they capture in spectacular high-speed dives, reaching speeds of over 200 mph.

This hunting strategy is not only a display of their incredible speed and precision but also an important ecological function, controlling the populations of their prey species. Occasionally, they may also hunt small mammals and bats, demonstrating their versatility as predators.

The Peregrine Falcon’s conservation history is a remarkable success story. In the mid-20th century, their numbers plummeted due to the widespread use of DDT and other pesticides.

Thanks to extensive conservation efforts, including a ban on DDT, captive breeding programs, and habitat restoration, Peregrine Falcon populations have made a significant comeback. In Wisconsin, these efforts have been particularly successful, with the bird now being a symbol of wildlife conservation success.

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

The American Kestrel, a dashing and diminutive raptor, is a widespread sight throughout North and South America. Its petite stature, with striking blue-gray wings and rusty plumage on its back, makes it easily recognizable.

These avian acrobats are known for their hovering flights as they hunt, and the males flaunt a distinctive blue-gray head, while the females sport a rufous crown. American Kestrels add a vibrant splash of color to their habitats, from open fields and farmlands to urban areas.

An American Kestrel diving for prey

The American Kestrel, Wisconsin’s smallest falcon, exhibits a unique approach to nesting. Unlike many birds, they don’t construct their own nests. Instead, they cleverly repurpose existing cavities, like abandoned woodpecker holes or nooks in old buildings, making the most of what nature and human structures offer.

During the breeding season, the male Kestrel performs captivating flight displays, a mix of soaring and diving, to attract a mate. Once a pair is formed, it’s the female who decides on the perfect nesting spot. They typically have one brood per year, with 4-5 eggs. The female incubates these precious eggs, while the male diligently provides food. This cooperative approach highlights a bond built on mutual effort and understanding.

The American Kestrel’s diet is a reflection of its agility and adaptability. These raptors feast on a diverse menu that includes small mammals like mice and voles, insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, and occasionally small birds.

Their hunting strategy is a spectacle – they hover mid-air with remarkable stability before swooping down on unsuspecting prey. This versatility in their diet is crucial for their survival, allowing them to thrive in various habitats, from open fields to urban areas. It’s this adaptability that makes the American Kestrel a successful predator, playing an important role in controlling pest populations and maintaining ecological balance.

The conservation story of the American Kestrel is complex. In Wisconsin, as in many parts of North America, their numbers have been declining, largely due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Conservationists have responded by setting up nesting boxes, which have become crucial in supplementing their natural nesting sites.

These efforts, combined with ongoing research into their decline, public education, and changes in pesticide use, aim to reverse the downward trend. The American Kestrel serves as a reminder of our interconnectedness with nature and the importance of concerted conservation actions.

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: Migratory and uncommon

In the world of falcons, the Merlin stands out as a compact and agile hunter. With a broad distribution across North America, Europe, and Asia, this bird possesses slate-gray plumage with a characteristic pale cheek stripe. The Merlin’s swiftness in flight and knack for preying on songbirds make it a skilled predator, often spotted in a variety of habitats, including forests, wetlands, and grasslands. Its adaptability and striking appearance make the Merlin a remarkable addition to the world of falcons.

Close-up picture of a Merlin sitting in a tree

Merlins, often seen as mysterious falcons, have an intriguing approach to nesting. They typically take over old nests of other birds, such as crows or hawks, in tall trees or sometimes on cliffs. This reuse of nests is not just practical but also a strategic choice, offering high vantage points for hunting and safety.

During breeding, the female Merlin takes the lead in incubation, spending long hours on the eggs while the male hunts and brings food. Their commitment to their offspring, from the careful selection of the nest to the relentless feeding, is a testament to their resilience and adaptability in the wild.

The diet of the Merlin in Wisconsin is primarily focused on small birds, which they catch in mid-flight with astounding agility and speed. These falcons are skilled hunters, capable of maneuvering through dense forests or open fields to catch their prey. Their diet also includes insects and, occasionally, small mammals.

This preference for avian prey places Merlins as important regulators in the bird populations, maintaining a natural balance in the ecosystem. Their hunting prowess is not just a display of survival but also an essential aspect of their ecological role.

Merlins have experienced a fluctuating conservation history. In the past, they faced challenges due to pesticide use and habitat destruction. However, their populations in Wisconsin have shown signs of recovery, thanks in part to environmental regulations that have reduced pesticide use and protected key habitats.

Conservation efforts now focus on monitoring their populations to ensure their continued recovery. Education and research play a vital role in these efforts, helping to maintain the Merlin as a thriving species in Wisconsin’s ecosystems.

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, a majestic bird of the Arctic realms, boasts a circumpolar distribution across the northern hemisphere. Cloaked in regal, pure-white plumage, this formidable predator epitomizes the stark beauty of remote tundra landscapes.

With its powerful build and piercing eyes, the Gyrfalcon reigns as the largest and most powerful of all falcons. Its resilience in frigid habitats, where it preys on waterfowl and ptarmigan, underscores its mastery of extreme environments.

In Wisconsin, this particular species has become increasingly rare, and its appearances have diminished compared to the past. Historically, the city of Superior was a known location for these birds to be observed, but it has been several years since a confirmed sighting of a reliable individual in that area.

A Gyrfalcon with its white and dotted plumage

The Gyrfalcon, a rare visitor to Wisconsin, has a distinctive approach to nesting. In their native Arctic regions, they prefer nesting on cliff ledges, creating a simple scrape in the soil or snow to lay their eggs. This minimalist approach is a reflection of their adaptation to harsh, open landscapes. The female Gyrfalcon incubates the eggs, often braving extreme weather conditions, while the male hunts and brings food. Their nesting behavior, characterized by resilience and endurance, is a testament to their ability to thrive in some of the harshest environments on the planet.

In their Arctic habitat, Gyrfalcons primarily feed on birds like ptarmigans and waterfowl, as well as small mammals such as lemmings. Their hunting strategy involves powerful, fast flights, often pursuing prey over long distances. In Wisconsin, where they are rare, they adapt their diet to the available prey, which may include local bird species and small mammals. This adaptability in diet is crucial for their survival in varied environments, demonstrating their remarkable hunting skills and ecological flexibility.

The conservation of the Gyrfalcon, particularly in regions like Wisconsin where they are rare, focuses on habitat protection and understanding their migration patterns. Being apex predators, their presence and health are indicators of the overall health of the ecosystem. Conservation efforts are global, aimed at protecting their Arctic breeding grounds and migratory routes, ensuring these magnificent birds continue to grace the skies.

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

Found throughout North America’s vast open spaces, the Prairie Falcon is a bird that embodies the spirit of the wild prairies. Distinguished by its warm, cinnamon-brown plumage and streaked belly, this falcon is an adept hunter, often seen coursing through the skies above grasslands and deserts.

Its affinity for wide, open landscapes and striking appearance make the Prairie Falcon an emblematic species of the American West, embodying the untamed beauty of its habitat.

Prairie Falcons are relatively scarce in Wisconsin, with only sporadic sightings over the past decade. Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to remain vigilant for their presence, particularly in areas characterized by a sparse tree population.

A Prarie Falcon in flight

Preferring the solitude of open landscapes, they choose cliffs and rocky outcrops for their nests. The female Prairie Falcon incubates the eggs, while the male takes up the role of hunting and guarding the territory.

Their choice of nesting sites and cooperative parenting strategy reflect their adaptation to life in wide-open spaces, where vigilance and resourcefulness are key to survival.

The diet of the Prairie Falcon in Wisconsin consists mainly of small mammals, such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs, showcasing their role as natural rodent controllers. They are also known to hunt birds and large insects. Their hunting technique involves swift, low flights over open terrain, using their keen eyesight to spot and capture prey. This diet and hunting style underline their importance in maintaining the ecological balance in their habitats.

Conservation efforts for the Prairie Falcon focus on habitat preservation and minimizing human disturbances. In Wisconsin, these efforts include protecting nesting sites and prairie ecosystems. Research and monitoring are crucial in understanding their population dynamics and threats.

Public education about the importance of these birds and their habitats is also a key component of conservation strategies, aiming to ensure the Prairie Falcon remains a vibrant part of Wisconsin’s natural landscape.

Where to look for Falcons in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, falcon enthusiasts have ample opportunities to spot these majestic birds of prey in their natural habitats. The key to finding falcons is understanding their preferred environments and behaviors.

Falcons, including the American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, and others, are often found in areas where open fields meet wooded edges. This landscape provides them with ample hunting opportunities and high perches for scanning their territory. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times for sightings, as falcons are most active during these periods. Bringing a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can greatly enhance your viewing experience, allowing you to observe these birds from a distance without disturbing them.

Here are four prime areas in Wisconsin for falcon watching:

  • Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area: This extensive wetland in southeastern Wisconsin is a haven for a variety of bird species, including falcons. The open water and marshy edges provide ideal hunting grounds for these birds.
  • High Cliff State Park: Overlooking Lake Winnebago, the cliffs and open spaces in this park make it a favourable spot for falcon sightings, especially for Peregrine Falcons.
  • Devil’s Lake State Park: The rocky cliffs and open spaces around Devil’s Lake are attractive to falcons. The park’s diverse terrain offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching.
  • Wyalusing State Park: Situated at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, this park’s bluffs offer a great vantage point for observing falcons, particularly in migration seasons.

Remember, while searching for falcons, it’s important to respect their space and not disturb their natural behaviors. Also, consider joining local birdwatching groups or guided tours, as they can provide valuable insights and increase your chances of sightings.

Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a curious nature enthusiast, observing falcons in Wisconsin’s diverse landscapes can be a thrilling and rewarding experience.


Wisconsin’s diverse landscapes offer a splendid backdrop for observing falcons, with each species displaying unique adaptations to their habitats. From the open marshes of Horicon to the high cliffs of Devil’s Lake State Park, these majestic birds of prey can be seen exhibiting their remarkable hunting skills and aerial prowess.

The state’s conservation efforts, coupled with public awareness, have played a pivotal role in maintaining healthy populations of these fascinating raptors. For bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, Wisconsin provides an exceptional opportunity to witness the beauty and grace of falcons, reminding us of the intricate and awe-inspiring connections within our natural world.

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