Prairie falcons are medium-large sized birds of prey native to western North America. As in all falcons, females are noticeably bigger than males. The plumage of adults is warm gray-brown (sometimes called "sandy") above and pale with more or less dark mottling below. Having evolved in a harsh desert environment with low prey density, they have developed into aggressive and opportunistic hunters of both mammal and bird prey. Prairie falcons are popular as falconry birds, where with proper training they are regarded as being as effective as the more well known Peregrine falcons.
Prairie falcons are found from southern Canada, through the western United States, and into northern Mexico. They breed from southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and south-central British Columbia south through the western United States. In winter they migrate from the northernmost and highest-elevation parts of their breeding range and spread west to the deserts and Pacific coast of California, and south to Baja California Sur, Jalisco, and Hidalgo. Prairie falcons inhabit the open country, especially arid, in summer including alpine tundra to shortgrass prairie and high desert. In winter they range to low deserts and can be also found in farmland, around lakes and reservoirs, and occasionally in towns.
Prairie falcons are generally solitary and spend time in pairs only during the breeding season. Living in a prey-sparse desert environment, these diurnal hunters have developed a wide range of hunting and flight styles. They often hunt by flying fast and low, at a height of only a few meters or so, hoping to find surprised prey as it comes over the terrain or around bushes. Prairie falcons may also use terrain as cover to approach beneath a flock of birds, then using their speed to perform a rapid climbing surprise attack into the flock. They also pursue prey sighted from a perch, again often flying low and using their speed to close with the prey in a tail-chase. Prairie falcons may even deliberately emulate the flight style of other birds in order to deceive potential prey and allow a surprise attack by the falcon. These birds communicate vocally when they are alarmed or in order to claim their territory, during courtship displays, and in aggressive situations. Near the nest, Prairie falcons produce repetitive kree kree kree…, kik kik kik…
Prairie falcons are carnivores that eat mostly small mammals (especially in summer) and small to medium-sized birds. Common mammalian prey includes squirrels, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, gophers, and rabbits of various species. Reptiles are also sometimes taken. Bird prey commonly includes sparrows, starlings, grackles, doves, quail, meadow larks, pigeons, coots, teal, and mallards.
Prairie falcons are serially monogamous and pairs stay together during the breeding season. Their breeding season occurs from February to July, with a peak in April-May. Pairs nest on cliff ledges and don't construct nests; usually, it's a scrape in gravel or dirt on the ledge. The female lays 3-5 eggs which are subelliptical and pinkish with brown, reddish-brown, and purplish dots. The incubation period lasts around 31 days. The female does most of the incubating, and the male brings most of the food. Chicks are altricial; they are hatched with reddish bodies covered in light down. They fledge from 36 to 41 days after hatching but continue to be supported by their parents while learning to fly and hunt. At approximately 65 days of age, the chicks become independent and disperse from their natal area. They reach reproductive maturity and are ready to breed at 2 years of age.
Main threats to Prairie falcons include illegal hunting and habitat loss as grasslands these birds are dependant on are developed for agriculture, cities, and other human uses.
According to Great Basin Bird Observatory (GBBO) resource, the total population size of the Prairie falcon is around 36,000 individuals. According to the All About Birds resource, the total breeding population of the species is at 80,000 birds. Overall, currently, Prairie falcons are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are increasing.