Falcons are birds of prey in the genus Falco.
There are about 40 species of falcons worldwide.
They are widely distributed on all continents of the world except Antarctica.
They have a lifespan between 12 and 20 years in the wild, depending on species. Some species can live up to 25 years in captivity.
The gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) is the largest falcon species. It is up to 61 centimeters (24 inches) long withwingspan up to 130 centimeters (51 inches) and weight up to 1,350 grams (47.6 ounces).
The Seychelles kestrel (Falco araea) is the smallest falcon species. It is 18–23 centimeters 7-9 inches long with a wingspan of 40–45 centimeters (16-18 inches) and weight 73-87 grams (2.5-3 unces).
They are characterised by a bullet-shaped body; commonly long, pointed wings; a medium to long tail; long toes with sharp, hooked claws; and a short, hooked, usually notched bill.
Most species of falcon are dark brown or grey-colored with white, yellow and black spots and markings on the body.
Falcons are diurnal birds of prey and hunt during daylight hours.
Falcons have excellent eyesight which they use to locate their prey. They can see up to 8 times more clearly than the sharpest human eye.
They have good but not exceptional hearing, and their sense of smell is poor.
Falcons are strong, fast fliers with great aerial agility, which makes them successful hunters capable of taking prey 6 times their own body weight! Usually they kill cleanly, breaking the back of their victims.
Falcons kill with their beaks, using a “tooth” on the side of their beaks — unlike the hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey in the Accipitridae, which use their feet.
Hours after eating, a falcon will regurgitate a pellet, containing any feathers, fur or small bones swallowed accidentally.
Falcons are generally solitary birds and only really come together to mate. Although falcons are known to stay in the same place, many species of falcon are migratory birds and have been known to travel more than 24,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) per year.
Falcons mate for life and breed in the same territory each year. Every year falcons re-establishing their bond through a complex set of ritualistic courtship behaviors. The male makes bold aerobatic flights that might include loops, tight turns, and swooping dives.
The nesting habits vary; they may construct a loosely built nest in a tree, lay eggs on a bare ledge on a rocky cliff, or use a hollow tree or manmade nestbox. Some species nest colonially.
Female falcons lay 2 to 5 eggs, the color ranging in various species from white to reddish, mottled brown. They are incubated for about 30 days, mainly by the female.
Both parents look after their chicks until they are big enough and strong enough to fend for themselves. The male and the female both leave the nest to gather prey to feed the young. Chicks fledge 40 to 45 days after hatching, and remain dependent on their parents for up to 3 months.
The falcon is a bird of prey that, typically sitting close to the top of the food chain, has few predators. Falcons may be killed by other large birds of prey, such as eagles and owls. The eggs and chicks are vulnerable to mammals that may climb into the nest if it is too low to the ground.
Some species of falcon are classified as vulnerable or endangered.
The technique of hunting with trained captive birds of prey is known as falconry. Falcons are used in falconry for at least 3,500 years.
The peregrine falcon is renowned for its speed, reaching over 320 km/h (200 mph) during its characteristic hunting stoop (high speed dive), making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom. According to a National Geographic TV programme, the highest measured speed of a peregrine falcon is 389 km/h (242 mph).
Falcons can process four types of light while humans can only process three. This means that the falcon has a very good night vision and can also see ultraviolet rays.
Within the falcon species, the female is generally larger than the male.
Some small falcons with long, narrow wings are called “hobbies“, and some which hover while hunting are called “kestrels“.
The Late Latin falco is believed to derive from falx as meaning a sickle, referencing the claws of the bird. In Middle English and Old French, the term faucon refers generically to several captive raptor species.