4 Falcons in San Diego (ID & Images)

San Diego, California is home to a wide variety of animals and birds, including majestic falcons. Falcons are one of the most recognizable birds in the world due to their impressive size and impressive flying capabilities.

San Diego is home to four types of falcons, the most common being the prairie falcon. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at these amazing creatures and how they interact with San Diego’s unique environment. Whether you are a new birder or seasoned birder, you’ll enjoy the article below. 

List of Falcons in San Diego

1. Prairie falcon 

 Prairie falcon

Prairie falcons are a species of raptor or bird of prey that breeds in San Diego. These birds have a distinctive appearance, allowing for easy identification from other raptors and birds in general.


 Prairie falcons can be identified by their unique coloring, long wingspan, and sharp talons. They have gray backs with pale tail tips. Note the whitish eyebrow. From below, this San Diego falcon is whitish with dark brown spots. The underwings have a dark band that stretches from the ‘armpits’ to the ‘wrist’. 

They generally measure between 14.5-18 inches in length and boast a wingspan ranging from 35-44.5 inches across. With their large wingspan and pointed wingtips, Prairie Falcons often look larger than they actually are when seen in flight. In addition to its distinct coloring, these birds also possess powerful yellow legs used for hunting small mammals such as rabbits and rodents.


Do prairie falcons live in San Diego? A few pairs have been spotted breeding in this county. These pairs build their nests on cliff ledges, potholes or crevices. The nest is simple; they just scratch the surface and lay 2-6 creamy white or pinkish eggs. 

When not nesting, you can find these San Diego birds of prey in open country. They eat ground squirrels, morning doves and shore birds. Also, you have a better chance of spotting these birds in winter. Check Borrego Valley and Santa Maria Valley. These San Diego birds can live for up to 18 years. 

2. Merlin 


Merlins visit San Diego in Winter. They prefer grassland but you can check them around cattle pens and mudflats, where they can easily hunt small birds. 


 It’s easy to recognize some bird species by their unique features, but identifying a Merlin can be tricky. This is because they are small and  can be mistaken for other bird species. 

This small falcon has a slim body and faint facial markings. The Merlin is an agile hunter with an average wingspan of 26.8 inches and length of 9-12 inches. Female merlins are larger than males. 

 It has long, pointed wings and its tail feathers are square-tipped. Its back is dark blue-gray for males while females are more brownish than gray. 

The male’s chest is whitish with dark streaks down the sides and belly while the female is brownish with dark brown streaks. 

Like a prairie falcon, its feet are yellow. Also note the faint eyebrow. 


When wintering in San Diego, these falcons prefer the coastal lowland where it’s warmer and has more birds to hunt. Occasionally, you can spot them during their spring migration. Speaking of migration, these birds move to the north to breed. 

When breeding, merlins prefer to use old magpies, ravens or crow nests. They never build nests. 

Are merlins monogamous? They remain faithful to one partner during the breeding season. Next season, they move on to a new partner. 

Female merlins lay brownish eggs that hatch after 32 days. The babies have sparse down and are helpless. Parents feed them dunlins, house sparrows, dickcissels and other shore birds. These falcons in San Diego have a 12 year lifespan. 

Related Read: Check common bird species in San Diego California

3. Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

With speeds of up to 200 mph when hunting, peregrine falcons are one of the fastest birds in San Diego. Did you know that they are also easy to train? In the 1800s, this bird of prey was used for hunting because of its powerful talons and fast speed. 


Peregrine falcons have an interesting build. They are about 14.2-19.3 inches in length, so almost the same size as the prairie falcon. An adult peregrine is a dark blue-gray on its back and with a black hood and faint whitish eyebrow. 

They also have dark bars on their underwings, underparts and tail, which helps with identification in flight. Other features to look for include their broad wingspan, which is typically around 39.4-43.3 inches wide. Note the sharp hooked bill. 

When nesting, these falcons prefer building their nests on cliffs and bridges. The male peregrine will look for a few possible nesting spots and the female will select a site she likes. They’ll then scrape the surface and lay 2-5 eggs. After 29-32 days, blind and helpless babies emerge. 

4. American Kestrel 

 American Kestrel 

American kestrels are the smallest falcons in San Diego, California. From afar, they can be mistaken for songbirds. 


The American kestrel is a small, diurnal raptor found all year-round in the county. It may be the most familiar falcon species to bird watchers. With its striking color pattern, it is easy to identify upclose.

This colorful bird has a rusty back with blue-gray wings and tail, usually accented by black spots. The face of the American kestrel is marked with two bold black eye stripes that frame its piercing eyes. Females are rusty with faint streaks on the belly and back has dark barring. 

Like other San Diego falcons, they excavate nests during their mating period. And they raise 1-2 broods, ensuring their population increases. 


What are the smallest falcons in San Diego? 

The American Kestrel. Measuring about 8.7-1.3 inches, these are the smallest birds of prey in San Diego California. They are the same size as a mourning dove. 

Are there peregrine falcons in San Diego?

Yes. After DDT banning, peregrine falcons were reintroduced to the San Diego wild by the end of the 1970’s. Since then the number of breeding pairs has increased as well as winter visitors. You can watch them at Point Loma and Torrey Pines State Reserve. 

What is the largest bird of prey in San Diego? 

That would be the golden eagle. This bird is larger than most hawks of San Diego. It spans 72-86.6 inches and about 27.6-33.1 inches long. An adult can weigh 216 oz. 





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