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Hawks In California: 4 Hawks In Northern California & Small Hawks In California

California is a large, diverse state with a variety of birds and wildlife for any enthusiast. It may surprise you to learn for such a large state, we only have four species of falcon, but California is home to some of the most common and beautiful falcons in North America. Today we will share all we know about the four California Falcons.

No matter if you live here or planning to visit, we will share the best locations to view these magnificent birds. Our comprehensive list will tell you the best time of day to view each of the four California Falcons, the best locations and habitats for each of the four falcons, and if they are migratory or seasonal.

This will help you plan when is the best time of year to see these birds in their natural habitat. We also include important information about their diet and nesting locations. All of this information will help you find all the California Falcons.

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon
Prairie Falcon

This high-flying falcon is one of the larger California Falcons. These birds are larger than a standard crow. Their coloring is brown on the chest and has a light-colored tail. They have a noted stripe above the eye. The Prairie Falcon lives in the southeastern deserts and the northwest, including the central valley.

Wide-open ranges and grasslands are ideal viewing regions for this falcon. The wide-open areas are perfect hunting and breeding grounds for the Prairie Falcon. The Prairie Falcon hunts while flying low. This falcon does not live in the upper elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

This falcon, when compared to some others, like the American Kestrel, is not as common in California, but if you are looking for this bird in the grasslands of the southeast or northwest, you will most likely see it hunting or defending its territory. The best time to view this falcon would be in the early morning or late afternoon.

These falcons migrate little and are active year-round. The Prairie Falcon is a very territorial bird and defends its home from other predators, but especially from other Prairie Falcons and competitors. The Prairie Falcon eats small mammals like mice. It will sometimes eat small birds and the occasional lizard.

Expert Tip: The Prairie Falcon prefers to make its nests on steep rock or canyon walls. The Prairie Falcon may live up to twenty years.

Wingspan: 35.4-44.5 inches
Length: 14.6-18.5 inches
Weight: 14.8-38.8 ounces
Larger than a crow

Coloring: Brown on top and light with brown marking from below. They have light-colored tails.

Viewing Times: Early morning or late afternoon. Year-round.

Habitat: Southeastern areas and Northwest areas. Not in high elevation areas in the Sierra Nevada.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

This is a fast bird, perhaps the fastest bird in the world. It can reach speeds up to two hundred miles per hour with a cruising speed between 24-33 miles per hour. This bird can dive for its prey, reaching these amazing fast speeds. Like the Prairie Falcon, the Peregrine Falcon is about the size of a crow.

This falcon has long, pointed wings and appears blue-gray. The Peregrine Falcon is very common in California, preferring to live near the coast. These birds migrate from Canada in winter, so winter is often the best time to view them in California.

The Peregrine Falcon almost went extinct back in the 1970s, but because of aggressive protection strategies, the Peregrine is making a comeback. So much so that it is no longer on the endangered species list, but is still protected. This falcon hunts in flight, typically by diving at high speeds.

This California Falcon feeds on small birds, such as songbirds, ducks, and doves. They also eat small mammals like mice and the occasional lizard. They are most active during the early morning or late afternoon. Peregrine Falcons do not make nests like other birds.

They often build their nests using large holes along cliff sides. They will also use bridges, tall buildings, and other low human-traveled areas for nesting. Because of this, they are known for hunting pigeons. The Peregrine is a beautiful bird and popular for avid birders across the country.

Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 inches
Length: 14.2-19.3 inches
Weight: 18.7-56.4 ounces
About the size of a crow

Coloring: Blue-gray on top with thick plumage on the head. White or light-colored with blue speckles on breast and chest.

Viewing Times: Early morning and late afternoon. Winter season because of migration in summer months.

Habitat: Coastal areas.



This bird often hunts in with another Merlin, making it a very efficient California Falcon hunter. The Merlin is a very common Falcon throughout the U.S. It is migratory, making its summer home in Canada, but comes to California in winter. These are smaller falcons as compared to the Peregrin and Prairie Falcons. They are about the size of a Robin.

These falcons have a dark streaky color pattern. You can find the Merlin in coastal areas and grasslands. Typically not in or around deserts. The best time of the day to view this falcon is in the early morning or late afternoon. Like other California Falcons, the Merlin eats small birds and mammals like mice but can eat insects.

Young males eat more insects as they develop their hunting skills. These falcons have quick winged movements and are aggressive hunters.

Expert Tip: The Merlin spends its time in winter along shorelines preying on small shorebirds. The Merlin uses abandoned nests of other birds like hawks.

It will change the hawks’ nest so it is best suited for Merlins. Will nest close to water because of their prey being shorebirds, like the Caspian Terns and the Black Turnstones. The Merlin likes forested areas near water for protection. If you are looking to spot the Merlin, it is best to look at the very tops of trees.

If the Merlin is not flying, it is scouting out for prey. Scientists have noted that the Merlin is decreasing in numbers. This is because of the smaller numbers of Merlin’s food sources. Scientists worry that the overuse of pesticides may affect Merlin numbers as well as other California Falcons.

Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 inches
Lenght: 9.4-11.8 inches
Weight: 5.6-8.5 ounces
About the size of a Robin

Coloring: Gray-blue in color on top and streaked on the chest.

Viewing Times: Early morning or late afternoon. Winter season.

Habitat: Coastal and grassland areas; also forested areas.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel
American Kestrel

This is a small bird for a California Falcon. The American Kestrel is one of the smaller birds of prey in North America. The American Kestrel is typically smaller than a Robin. Their size does not stop them from hunting birds bigger than them. The American Kestrel is very common in California. These birds have a rusty plumage.

Looking at them from the below, they appear light in color. You can find this falcon all throughout California except for high elevations. The American Kestrel will eat other smaller prey such as insects and worms. These falcons, unlike other falcons, tend to not hunt or attack prey in flight. They are sneakier and pounce from above on their prey.

The best time to view the American Kestrel is in the early morning or late evening. The best locations to view them are wooded areas or areas with crevices for them to hide and build nests. They also prefer rocky areas or low-growing shrubs.

The American Kestrel needs crevices and covered areas nearby for nesting and protection since other California Falcons hunt the Kestrel. Because of their small size, they are prone to be blown around in high winds.

Wingspan: 20.1-24.0 inches
Length: 8.7-12.2 inches
Weight: 2.8-5.8 ounces
Smaller than a Robin

Coloring: Rusty plumage on top and light coloring on chest and wings.

Viewing Times: Early morning or late afternoon. Year-round.

Habitat: All over California except high elevation.

Are there falcons in California?

Falcons are birds of prey or ‘raptors’ which means they grab their prey with their very sharp and curved talons and carry them away with their strong legs and powerful feet. They are active during the day and distinguished from other birds by their long, pointed wings and swift, powerful flight.

Falcon in California
Falcon in California

Are there falcons in California? Yes, there is. In fact, you can find several species of falcons in California. Below are some of them.

  1. Merlin
    California is home to Merlin during winter and non-breeding season. They are known to hunt their prey in pairs and by stalking them. They are small falcons so they feed in small birds like sparrows.
  2. Prairie Falsons
    Prairie falcons camouflaged themselves with their brown color and like to soar high in grasslands and fields to hunt for foods.
  3. Peregrines Falcons
    Peregrines can mostly be found throughout California during the winter season. Their wingspan is 44 inches and they fly 60 miles per hour which can reach up to 200 miles per hour when diving down for their target preys.

How do you identify a falcon?

Falcon Appearance
Falcon Appearance

The falcon is a predatory bird of prey with terrifying agility and speed, considered in such a way as the fastest of all the existing birds that cross the skies and of all the animals on the planet. There are more than 40 different species and falcons scattered around the world, varying in sizes, colors, and weight.

If we want to distinguish between all of them, it will be convenient to study their characteristics with detailed images.

Expert Tip: To begin to differentiate falcons from other birds, it must be taken into account that they are birds of considerable size, but they tend to fly very high and are difficult to see up close.

In general, it will be difficult to be able to see it in detail. Even so, there is one characteristic that differentiates most hawks from other birds, and that is that the wings end in a pointed shape.


California is home to four exceptional falcons. No matter where you live or are visiting, you can find a falcon hunting or nesting near you. With keen eyes and the knowledge above, you will be able to spot these falcons in their natural environment.

With four beautiful and active falcons in California, there are plenty of options to see these spectacular birds. Perhaps you live or are visiting the southeastern part of the state, you must check to look for the Prairie Falcon or American Kestrel. They love the open areas for hunting.

If you are visiting or live near the coast, then you have the Peregrin Falcon and the Merlin to look for, since they prefer coastal areas when not migrating.

If you would like to learn more about California Falcons or other birds and animals of California, please let us know below.

We love hearing from our readers and especially answering your questions.

About Rencel Leyran