The Small Florida Falcons By: Wes Tallyn

There are two common Falcons in Florida that are oftentimes confused, because of their similar size and colors: the American Kestrel and the Merlin.

American Kestrels are between 9 and 12 inches tall. Vertical lines along the sides of the face are a great initial identification marking to look for in the field. They also have bluer on the top of the head than a Merlin. Kestrels have a diet of primarily insects. They will often be seen on power lines, light poles, dead branches and other structures above open grass areas. The Kestrels will watch the ground from above and quickly swoop down on prey. Kestrels use tree cavities for their nesting sites. Typically, they will find a hole that was created by woodpeckers and claim it for their own. If you see a bird hovering briefly over a field, it’s likely a Kestrel! Kestrels are quite common in Florida during the Winter months, but are few and far between during the hot summer months in Southwest Florida.

Merlins are more migratory than Kestrels. The Merlin usually has a less striking appearance with more drab colored feathers. Merlins are slightly larger, standing between 10 and 14 inches tall. The best field mark to look for is a heavily streaked chest with vertical stripes. Merlins have a diet that primarily consists of small birds. During migration, they follow their prey South in the Fall, and then head North again following the flocks. Learning the behavior of the birds will help you to identity the birds, as well. Merlins are usually found in more wooded areas where they look for small song birds in the heavy brush and marshes. If you see a small Falcon chasing a bird, it’s most likely a Merlin. Look for them to start showing up here and the west coast of Florida again in September at your local park or fields near you!