Side By Side Prairie and Peregrine Falcon Comparison

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Prairie and Peregrine Falcon ComparisonPrairie and Peregrine Falcon Comparison – Composite image

I participate in several bird identification groups on Facebook where people share photos and/or descriptions of the birds they see and photograph where they aren’t sure of the identity and ask for help with ID’s. Quite often I see people struggle with Prairie and Peregrine Falcon identification where they might believe they saw or photographed a Prairie Falcon and they really saw a Peregrine Falcon or vice versa so I thought I’d do a side by side comparison of these two species of falcons.

I photographed the Prairie Falcon on January 13, 2017 in Box Elder County, Utah and the Peregrine Falcon on January 27, 2017 from the causeway to Antelope Island State Park in Davis County, Utah. For my purposes here I like that both of these falcons have snowy backgrounds because all of the the focus is on the birds and that makes them stand out for identification.

There isn’t much of a size difference between the two species, the wings of Peregrine Falcons are just a bit longer than those of Prairie Falcons, both of these falcon species have similar shapes as well so going by shape alone isn’t always helpful in identifying them for novice birders and beginning bird photographers.

Adult Prairie Falcons are browner than Peregrine Falcons and in flight they can show that they have dark “arm pits” that the Peregrines do not have. But seeing that isn’t always easy because of how fast these falcons fly and lighting conditions or distance might make seeing that even harder.

Usually what isn’t hard to see in the field are the heads of these two falcon species and there are key identification features there that can make it easier to tell the two species apart.

  • Adult Peregrine Falcons have a dark hood, or helmeted look with what look like heavy sideburns or what some people call a mustache stripe, to my eye they appear to have an old fashioned football helmet on their heads.
  • Prairie Falcons have browner feathers on their heads, thinner mustache stripes, less of a helmeted appearance and they also have more white plumage over their brows, behind the thin mustache stripe and around their bills.

Some immature Peregrine Falcons of the Tundra subspecies can look like Prairie Falcons but their dark mustache stripes are thicker than those of Prairie Falcons.

There are other differences in plumage between Prairie and Peregrine Falcons that show in my photos but by using just their heads it is possible to make a quick ID in the field.

Life is good.


I should also mention the ranges of these two falcons species, Peregrine Falcons can be seen all over North America (range map) but Prairie Falcons are primarily found in open areas of the West (range map). There are many areas in the West where these two falcon species are found in the similar types of habitat.


  1. Tim in Albion November 20, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Would love to see the same comparison with flight shots! Prairies tend to look paler overall, but especially the head and tail. We just recently found a Prairie (rare out here) and identified it at a distance by the light brown back, lack of dark helmet, and the pale tail.

    • Mia McPherson November 20, 2017 at 12:52 pm

      Tim, I’ll try to do a comparison in flight some day. I used these two photos for this post because the heads and their features were easily visible to compare.

  2. Mia McPherson November 20, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Thank you all for your comments.

    April,I know just what you mean.

  3. Elephants Child November 18, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you so much.

  4. M. Bruce November 18, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Thanks Mia – great information! I first learned of your site when someone told me you had very good raptor ID information. The first time I knowingly saw a Prairie Falcon I was fortunate to have someone immediately ID it for me and was then able to get some very nice pictures.

  5. MareBear November 18, 2017 at 11:02 am

    Best images ever Mia!

  6. Pepe Forte November 18, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Great info Mia. The side by side comparison is really interesting. Thanks.

  7. Patty Chadwick November 18, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Very interesting comparison shots….they are both beautiful birds..I love the pattern of spots on the prairies falcon, especially.,thanks for providing them and your comments….

  8. April Olson November 18, 2017 at 10:13 am

    Both beautiful photos. I seldom see Peregrines in the wild but often see Prairie. I had a wonderful relationship with one of the education Prairie falcons we had, I miss her greatly. I loved the way she would look into my eyes, I know it is cliche but there is something about that deep look that always made me feel connected to her.

  9. John sherrill November 18, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Great pictures! They are beautiful raptors. Side by side i.d. differences very helpful. Thanks, John

  10. Liz Cormack November 18, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Thank you for the descriptions & side-by-side photos of both falcons.

  11. Jerry Ellison November 18, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Very nice photos Mia and thanks so much for the description. These are certainly two of my favorites!

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