Prairie 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.