Falcons are raptors, or birds of prey, in the scientific order of the genus Falco – but did you know that there are plenty of falcons in Texas? The primary reason humans interacted with falcons was to secure food. While it is impossible to date when the practice of falconry began in earth’s history, according to FirstScience.com, “A new theory pushes the origins of falconry deep into prehistory, perhaps to the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000-10,000 years ago.”
What Do Falcons Do?
Falcons are swift raptors with long, pointed wings and long tails. They easily spot, chase, and kill prey efficiently, quickly, and quietly. Some raptors have small notches near the tips of their beaks that allow falcons to sever their prey’s spinal cords, which separate the prey animal’s neck vertebrae and halts the prey’s ability to fight. Others kill with sharp talons that pierce the prey’s the skin and flesh, and their talon’s locking mechanism tightens their grip.
Falcons capture their prey in flight at speeds from 60 to sometimes over 200 mph in open country. The peregrine falcon employs an astonishing attack strategy called a stoop. A stooping peregrine falcon utilizes a steep, controlled dive where the bird strikes its prey at high-speed with a massive blow in mid-air.
What Kind of Falcons Do We Have in Texas?
Anywhere in Texas, falcons call Texas home. You can find some species everywhere in Texas, and other species have ranges in specific regions of Texas, even in cities. Some species of falcons have an attachment to nesting in nooks on the sides of tall buildings in major cities. Falcons hunt from up high in the sky. You rarely find a falcon earthbound.
Five species of falcons live in Texas:
- Peregrine Falcon
- American Kestrel
- Prairie Falcon
- Aplomado Falcon
Peregrines migrate to Texas in warmer months in the northern half of Texas and live in the southern half of Texas in the winter. Merlins live all over Texas year-round, except for a small area in the northeast corner of Texas. Kestrels live in a band along the West Texas border, the West Texas wing, the panhandle, and across the Red River year-round, and the rest of Texas in the winter.
Except for a small band of land along the eastern and southern Texas borders where it does not live, the prairie falcon dwells in the western wing of West Texas that slides up the western end of the Texas panhandle year-round. It lives in the rest of Texas in the winter. The aplomado falcon only lives along a small band of land on the southern and western Texas borders and the whole of Mexico.
What Is the Difference Between a Falcon and a Hawk?
Quite a few differences exist between falcons and hawks. Both are birds of prey, a.k.a. raptors. Eagles, falcons, hawks, kites, owls, and vultures are raptors. The word “raptor” comes from the Latin word rapere, which means “to seize or take by force”. We use the term “raptor” informally to describe all birds of prey. There are vast differences between the raptor species and even between the family of a specific species.
The differences between falcons and hawks are: coloring, flying styles, head shapes, killing methods, mating rituals, nest sizes and location, size of body, taxonomy, and wingspan and shape. Size and behavior are the most obvious differences between the two raptor species.
Hawks are typically between 18 and 30 inches long. Falcons usually measure between 8 to 26 inches. Next, their colors, wingspan, wing shape, and head shape help the most to identify their differences specifically. Then, the two species use different body parts to take down their prey. Falcons and hawks also differ in their behavior patterns, as in the following comparisons.
- Color: Females: black-barred wings—Males: bluish-grey
- Flying Style: Brief, rapid flapping, speed of over 100 mph
- Killing Method: Tooth on beak
- Nests: Tree hollows
- Size: 8 to 26 inches-petite to medium
- Wings: Pointed, slender, long—Wingspan 29 to 47 inches
- Color: Brownish and greyish plumage and pale, striped underside
- Flying Style: Slow fluttering while flying in circles or brief flapping followed by gliding
- Killing Method: Feet and talons
- Nests: High in trees
- Size: 8 to 30 inches-large
- Wings: Wide, rounded, short—Wingspan 17 to 44 inches
Do Falcons Live in East Texas?
Four species of falcons live in East Texas every season of the year, but in different seasons. To iterate, falcons hang out in the entire great state of Texas all year long. While you can spot them throughout the year, it is easier to spot them in the winter when leaves have fallen in most of Texas. This does not apply to the pine trees of the East Texas forests. This is because the Piney Woods of East Texas do tend to hide more than birds.
Peregrine falcons migrate to most of the northern half of East Texas in the warmer months and the far southern half in the winter. Kestrels live in three quarters of northern East Texas year-round and far southern East Texas in winter. Merlins live in most of East Texas in the winter and a far northern corner of East Texas in the warmer months.
Prairie falcons do not live in the furthermost eastern band of East Texas land at all, but they do live in the rest of East Texas in the winter. Aplomado falcons do not live in East Texas at any time. They live in a band of land on the southern and western Texas border and in the entire country of Mexico.
What Kind of Falcons Are in North Texas?
The falcons that live in North Texas only have a few differences in habitat and range from the ones that live in East Texas. Again, you can find falcons in North Texas every day of the year. North Texas is a part of the U.S. Cross Timbers prairie region, which comprises thick forests and open savannahs. It is easier to spot falcons in the savannahs.
- Peregrine falcons migrate to North Texas in the warmer months.
- Kestrels live in North Texas year-round.
- Merlins live in eastern North Texas in warmer months and western North Texas in the winter.
- Prairie Falcons live in North Texas in the winter, except for a small corner in far eastern North Texas.
- Aplomado falcons do not live in North Texas at all.
A Short History of Falconry
Falconry may have facilitated the first steps for humans on the path to domesticating animals and developing agriculture at the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution, a.k.a. the “Neolithic Revolution”. However, experts do not agree on when the practice of falconry began. They do agree why; falcons are expert hunters, and humans need to eat. Surely, humans noticed raptors could hunt much more efficiently than they could on their journey from hunting to planting.
Archeologists believe that the Agricultural Revolution coincided with the beginning of the current geological epoch, our Holocene, at the end of the last Ice Age. One school of thought is that falconry origins are between 4,000 and 6,000 BC in Mongolia on the Asian continent, and others are that falconry began in the Middle East much earlier in time.
The first artistic views of falconry comes from Turkey at around 1500 BC, which depicts a bird alit on the fist of a man with a hare held by his back legs in the man’s fist. A later bas-relief from today’s northern Iraq shows a small bird on a man’s wrist, dating back to 722-705 BC during the time of King Sargon II. Excavations in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and Syria reveal the remains of the bones of birds of prey. These examples date back to 8000-10,000 BC.
The majority of Middle East researchers attribute the remains to either food or religious ceremonies at these Middle East archeological digs. The Late Stone Age (40,000-19,000 BC) diet included a wide range of large mammals and birds. From 12,000 to 10,000 years ago, the focus of hunting in the Middle East seems to transition to a heavier reliance on smaller prey.
Modern Day Falconry
Eventually, the practice of falconry shifted to the sport of falconry, as we know it today. From the sixth century to the mid to late 1800s, falconry trended as the sport of royalty in Europe. At that time, strict falconry laws governed a set of customs called the Laws of Ownership. Raptors are never ever pets. Raptors in captivity bring with them a colossal responsibility.
The ownership of birds of prey and the sport of falconry became a status symbol of European royalty and the wealthy. However, the popularity of falconry had died out by 1900, but re-surged in the 1920s and 1930s, then died out again. Today, as in Europe of yore, most global jurisdictions establish strict rules of laws regarding ownership of raptors and falconry. The sport of falconry lives!
If you are interested in birdwatching, then check out our article on Texas birdwatching excursions.