There are five species of falcons in Arizona, and knowing where to spot, watch, and photograph them gives you an edge when birding. Arizona falcons are tough, efficient fliers with outstanding aerial agility, which allows them to kill and carry prey six times their body weight.
Since falcons mate for life and breed in the same region, you can find these birds of prey in the same habitat throughout the year. These raptors are found everywhere in Arizona, with the peregrine falcon being the most popular and American kestrel being the smallest falcon.
Where to Find Falcons in Arizona
Falcons like their close rivals the hawks are territorial, loyal and majestic hunters that live in a variety of habitats in Arizona, including grasslands, forests, and urban areas. To increase your chances of seeing a falcon, you can try visiting areas with a good supply of prey, such as open fields or areas with a lot of small birds.
You can also try visiting areas with cliffs or ledges, as falcons often hunt from these perches. Some popular areas to look for falcons in Arizona include the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park, and the Chiricahua Mountains.
If you are interested in seeing falcons in their natural habitat, it is important to remember to respect their space and not disturb them. Keep a safe distance from the birds and do not try to approach or handle them.
With plenty of riparian, forested, and wooded lands, the Southern region of Arizona is home to many species of birds including hummingbirds, doves, owls, and quails. Presence of prey attract falcons to this region, making it one of the best places to spot falcons in Arizona.
When looking out for falcons in this part of the state, visit Cave Creek Canyon, Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, or Sierra Vista. These habitats have form unique ecological zones for birds as hundreds of species from Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts meet and interact with those from Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre.
In the north, you’ll find the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area as the prime locations for spotting falcons in Arizona. Various species of raptors congregate in this region especially in fall and spring because many birds they prey upon nest and breed here.
The Glen Canyon is situated at the center of pristine waters and forests, making it an ideal hideout for falcons. When you visit this area, better arm yourself with your binoculars, as falcons make a spectacle as they glide, dip, and soar on the air currents rising from the canyon.
If you can’t drive to the remote northern areas of Arizona, you can still get to watch falcons at the heart of Phoenix metro area. The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is like a rendezvous point for various migratory birds including pelicans, spoonbill, and ducks. Falcons congregate here as there’s plenty of food.
Few miles from Phoenix, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is another haven for various types of birds ranging from hummingbirds to sparrows. While the large gathering of birds in this area attracts falcons, these birds retreat to riparian habitats, woodlands, and forests as they are perfect ecosystems where they feed and breed in Arizona.
The 5 Common Species of Falcons in Arizona
As seen, Arizona falcons can be found everywhere from urban areas to steep canyons and cliffs. Arizona provides favorable environment for five types of falcons including Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, Merlin, Prairie Falcon, and Aplomado Falcon. The Gyrfalcon could easily be the sixth species but it’s rarely seen in the state.
These birds of prey have their breeding sites in Arizonian wetlands, riparian areas, and montane coniferous forests. You can also find them breeding in Mohave and Sonoran Desert scrubs. Most of these birds are non-migratory and will stay in Arizona throughout the year.
1. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
American Kestrels are small birds, with a length of about 8-12 inches and a wingspan of around 20 inches. They have a distinctive appearance, with a blue-gray head, reddish-brown back, and barred underparts. Male American Kestrels have blue-gray wings, while females have reddish-brown wings.
In Arizona, American Kestrels can be found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, open woodlands, and agricultural areas. They are often seen perched on telephone poles or other tall structures, from which they can scan the ground for prey. These species are a common sight in the state and can often be observed in urban and suburban areas as well as in more natural habitats.
2. Prairie Falcons (Falco mexicanus)
As their name suggests, these falcons are mostly found in open fields in Arizona. These birds are well known for picking up cow waste, dropping them high in the sky, and catching the dung before they hit the ground. Prairie Falcons are commonly found the grasslands, deserts, and agricultural areas in Arizona.
Prairie Falcons are large birds, with a length of about 15-20 inches and a wingspan of around 3 feet. They have a distinctive appearance, with a dark head and back, pale underparts, and a long, narrow tail. Closely related to the Peregrine Falcon, the Prairie Falcon is a solitary bird, and doesn’t like large groups.
3. Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus)
Peregrine Falcon is the largest species of falcon in Arizona. You can often spot them nesting on tall buildings in Phoenix, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch them in action diving at about 200 mph. It is known for its impressive speed and agility and is often referred to as the “king of birds.”
In Arizona, Peregrine Falcons can be found in a variety of habitats, including mountains, cliffs, and urban areas. These falcons are large birds, with a length of about 15-20 inches and a wingspan of around 3 feet. Male Peregrine Falcons are stockier than females, who take bigger but slenderer build.
4. Merlin (Falco columbarius)
Larger than the American Kestrel but smaller than the Peregrine, the Merlin falcon is fierce and uses the element of surprise to catch prey. It is a bird of open habitats, such as grasslands and field.
In Arizona, Merlins can be found throughout the state, although they are more common in the northern and central parts of the state. Merlins are small birds, with a length of about 9-12 inches and a wingspan of around 20 inches. They have a dark head and back, pale underparts, and a long, narrow tail. Male Merlins are smaller than females.
5. Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis)
As colorful as the American Kestrel, the Aplomado falcon is a permanent resident of Arizona. It was one of the most common falcons in the state, but degradation of their habitat has seen their numbers plummet drastically over the years. It is a medium-sized falcon with a length of about 14-17 inches and a wingspan of around 3 feet.
Aplomado Falcons have black-and-white facial stripes, and don’t build their nests, instead they use old nests built by other birds. During courtship rituals, the Aplamado couple pass food to each other in midair. These falcons are very slender, have long wings and long tails.
Falcons are incredible raptors known for their agility, exceptional hunting abilities, and fierceness. Falcons in Arizona rarely migrate as they nest and breed in the state. The best time to watch these birds is during their hunting hours, which can be mid-mornings or late afternoon.