Falcons are the fastest hawks

Falcons are indeed the speedsters of the bird world. They are streamlined, trim, and slim.
The Peregrine Falcon, in pursuit of some prey or other, has been clocked at more than 200 miles per hour.
Everything about them looks fast. They are lean-looking birds with long tails and narrow pointy wings. They fly with quick, strong wing strokes.
And they have much strength, too. A falcon can bring down a bird as large as itself.
Because of these characteristics, falcons were the preferred birds for the old (and modern-day) falconers.
Here in the northwest, there are four species which you might be able to see:
oThe Kestrel (Falco sparvertus)–formerly the Sparrow Hawk
This is a small bird, about the size of a robin or a bit bigger. And it is quite common all across Canada south of Hudson Bay.
Colour is quite a large feature of this bird. Its back and tail are real chestnut red while the wings are slaty blue with darker parts. The tail has a wide black band at the end, and it has prominent black marks on its face.
The top of its head is blue with a big chestnut spot at the very top. Underparts are greyish or buffy with big black spots.
Quite a combination, eh?
The Kestrel hunts in the open, usually sitting fairly high up, on top of a tree or fence post, or on the telephone wires. Its food is small things, mainly insects, mice, frogs.
In spite of its old name, it surely doesn’t rely on birds for its major meals.
oThe Merlin (Falco columbarius)–formerly the Pigeon Hawk
Another small bird, only a bit larger than the Kestrel. But this hawk is coloured quite differently than the Kestrel. Its upper parts are blue-grey. Breast and belly are light buff, streaked with brown. Seen overhead, the tail is banded black and white.
It is quite easy to tell these two small falcons apart.
For a nest, the Merlin often takes over the old nest of a crow, or it may use a rocky ledge. It might even nest right on the ground.
It doesn’t show any particular favoritism in its hunting grounds, either. It hunts in open woods, meadows, shores, where it often courses a few feet above the ground. It doesn’t hunt from a perch like the other one does.
oThe Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)–used to be the Duck Hawk
This is a large bird (18 to 20 inches long). Its head, back of its neck, and a prominent “mustache” are all really black. All upper parts are slaty blue, and underparts are quite pale with darker bars on the sides.
This is one of the birds which almost became extinct because of DDT. In the last decade or two, there has been a big program to restock the Peregrine. Many birds have been raised in captivity and released.
This has been quite successful in many cases but it is nowhere near common yet.
oThe Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)
The biggest of the lot, this one goes two feet or better. It breeds far to the north in Canada, and all around the Arctic world.
You could only see it here during its migration.
The Gyrfalcon has many colour phases, including one which is almost all white. It is this white bird which brings, on the black market, up to $50,000.
Well, those are our falcons. The two small ones are quite common but to see either of the other two, you would have to be pretty lucky.
Both the Peregrine and the Gyrfalcon are subjects of other articles in the future.

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