The 3 Types of Falcons That Call Ohio Home

Dennis Jacobsen/

Written by Kellianne Matthews

Updated: November 18, 2023

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Falcons play a vital role in Ohio’s ecosystems. As apex predators, these incredible birds of prey rule the top of the food chain and keep pest and rodent populations balanced. There are three incredible falcons that call Ohio home, and a few others that occasionally visit the Buckeye State. In this article, we dive into how falcons are different from other birds of prey, and then take a look at which ones you might get to see in Ohio!

Falcons vs. Other Birds of Prey

What is a falcon exactly? Falcons are classified as birds of prey or raptors in the genus Falco. However, falcons have many unique characteristics that set them apart from other birds of prey like hawks and eagles, such as their speed and agility, hunting style, and the way they kill their prey.

Raptors have an incredible range of physical attributes that perfectly suit their adventurous and predatory lifestyle. These amazing features include sharp beaks and powerful talons, extraordinary eyesight, and wings that enable them to gracefully soar through the skies. In addition, raptors are incredibly resilient, thriving in challenging environments with limited resources. What sets falcons apart from their other group members is their exceptional speed and agility in flight.

Unique Characteristics of Falcons

Falcon FeaturePurpose
Long, tapered wingsFalcons are adapted for high-speed flight, with long, tapered wings. This helps with minimizing drag and switching direction quickly.
Hunting styleFalcons are incredible aerial hunters who capture prey while flying through the air at high speeds.
A tomial “tooth”Unlike other raptors that tear their prey apart with their talons, falcons use their beaks! Falcons have a special little notch on the upper part of their beaks, called a “tomial tooth”. It is incredibly sharp, and falcons use it to kill their prey quickly and effectively.

There are many birds of prey that live in Ohio and several others that visit throughout the year, but only a handful of them are falcon species. Here are the three types of falcons that call Ohio home!

1. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

American Kestrel Male Facing Left Landscape View

American kestrels are quite small, only about the size of an

American robin


Ohio’s smallest falcon is the American kestrel, which is only about 8.5 to 12.5 inches long! Adorable but deadly, these tiny falcons have a wingspan of 20 to 24 inches and weigh around 2.8 to 5.8 ounces. They have petite, sleek bodies, and their wings and tails are quite long. Male falcons flaunt beautiful patterns and colors, with a rusty-brown back, slate-blue wings, and black spots and bars. Females have a similar appearance, but they lack the distinctive blue tones of the males’ feathers. Instead, their bodies are mainly reddish-brown with dark brown, with lots of dark brown streaks.

American kestrels live all throughout Ohio and are the most common hawk you will see in the state. They like to hangout in open areas like city parks, meadows, farmland, suburbs, and pastures. You can easily recognize the sound of an American kestrel, which is a sharp killy killy killy call.

2. Merlin (Falco columbarius)


Merlins are sometimes called pigeon hawks.

Another small falcon in Ohio is the merlin, which is just a bit bigger than the American kestrel. In fact, it looks very similar to a kestrel, but its body is slightly larger and more robust. Merlins measure 9.4 to 13 inches long with a 20 to 29-inch wingspan and weigh 5.8 to 8.1 ounces on average. They have elongated, tapered wings and long tails, with dark brown coloring on their feathers. Males have slat-blue feathers on their heads and necks, while females have brown ones.

Merlins can be found in various habitats throughout Ohio, including open fields, meadows, and woodlands. They are known for their impressive agility, with astounding aerial maneuverability that can course with utmost precision. These birds are also capable of hovering in mid-air, especially when hunting for prey.

3. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine Falcon in New Jersey

The chemicals DDT and DDE almost wiped peregrine falcons out completely, but they made a comeback.

Known for its unbelievable speed, the peregrine falcon is the fastest bird in the world, reaching up to 200 mph when diving after its prey! It is also one of the most widely distributed falcons, found on every continent except Antarctica. In Ohio, peregrine falcons live all throughout the state, typically in open areas with tall cliffs and a source of water nearby. Some even build nests on tall buildings in cities!

Striking and distinct, peregrine falcons have a dark pattern on their heads and necks that makes them look like they are wearing tiny little helmets. Their throats, chins, and ear patches, on the other hand, are white, and their bodies have various hues of slate gray, brown, or blueish black. Beautiful patterns also adorn their wings and long tails.

Visiting Falcons in Ohio

In addition to falcons that call Ohio home, other species travel through the state on occasion. Here are a few of the falcons that visit Ohio from time to time!

4. Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

The gyrfalcon is a bird of prey (Falco rusticolus), the largest of the falcon species. It breeds on Arctic coasts and tundra, and the islands of northern North America, Europe, and Asia. Falling snow

Gyrfalcons come in many color morphs, ranging from all-white to very dark hues.

The gyrfalcon stands as one of the largest and most formidable falcon species on Earth. However, it is also extremely elusive, with only a handful of rare sightings in Ohio. Although extremely uncommon, gyrfalcons have been spotted along the state’s coast from November to March. These beautiful birds of prey grow 20 to 24 inches long with a 48 to 64-inch wingspan and weigh over 2.5 pounds. They have various color morphs, but in the United States, they are usually gray and white.

Gyrfalcons are apex predators in Arctic regions and migrate across Canada and the northern United States. Their diet primarily consists of birds like ptarmigan, ducks, and geese, but occasionally they also eat small mammals and reptiles.

5. Prairie Falcon​ (Falco mexicanus)

The Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) is a medium-sized falcon of western North America, about the size of a Peregrine Falcon.

Although extremely rare, prairie falcons are occasionally spotted during the winter in Ohio. They typically prefer drier areas in the western United States and are actually considered an “accidental species” in Ohio. These cliff-nesting raptors are typically around 15 inches long and weigh 1.1 to 1.4 pounds. Their feathers are sandy colored or a warm gray-brown hue with dark mottling.

Prairie falcons are incredible hunters with a wide range of various styles. They can stoop down like peregrine falcons, or cruise at high speeds low to the ground like merlins. Sometimes they even hunt like accipiter hawks, waiting to ambush their prey from a perch up above.

6. Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus)

Crested caracara, Caracara plancus, a brightly colored predator, inhabits a large area.

Crested caracas are observant and opportunistic, always looking for the easiest way to get food.

The rarest falcon ever officially spotted in Ohio is the crested caracara. Typically found in Central and South America and the southern United States, crested caracaras are large falcons, only second to the gyrfalcon in body mass. They grow 20 to 26 inches long with a wingspan of 47 to 52 inches long and weigh 2 to 3.5 pounds. Crested caracaras have a unique appearance due to their large orange beaks with light bluish-gray tips. The back of their heads and necks are a creamy-buff color, and they have dark brown spiky crests on top of their heads.

Because crested caracaras are opportunistic hunters, they will do just about anything to satisfy their appetites. They eat carrion (the carcasses of dead animals), hunt small animals, raid reptile and bird nests for eggs, steal from other raptors, harass birds until they drop their quarry, and sometimes even eat fruit!

Summary of the Types of Falcons That Call Ohio Home

Common NameScientific NameRange in OhioLives in Ohio
American KestrelFalco sparveriusAll of Ohio.Yes
MerlinFalco columbariusAll of Ohio.Yes
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinusAll of Ohio.Yes
GyrfalconFalco rusticolusRare in Ohio and only seen along the coast during winter.No
Prairie FalconFalco mexicanusRare in Ohio, but occasionally seen during winter.No
Crested CaracaraCaracara plancusExtremely rare in Ohio.No

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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on anthrozoology, conservation, human-animal relationships, and animal behavior. Kellianne has been writing and researching animals for over ten years and has decades of hands-on experience working with a variety of different animals. She holds a Master’s Degree from Brigham Young University, which she earned in 2017. A resident of Utah, Kellianne enjoys creating, exploring and learning new things, analyzing movies, caring for animals, and playing with her cats.

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