Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Falco mexicanus


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco mexicanus
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tesky, Julie L. 1994. Falco mexicanus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : FAME COMMON NAMES : prairie falcon TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for the prairie falcon is Falco mexicanus Schlegel. It is in the family Falconidae [2]. There are no recognized subspecies. ORDER : Falconiformes CLASS : Bird FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : See OTHER STATUS OTHER STATUS : Prairie falcon is under state monitor in Washington [39].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco mexicanus
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Prairie falcons breed from central British Columbia, southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and North Dakota south to Baja California. They winter from the northern parts of their breeding range south to central Mexico and east to the Mississippi River [1,10,13,16]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES26 Lodgepole pine FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES29 Sagebrush FRES30 Desert shrub FRES31 Shinnery FRES32 Texas savanna FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub FRES35 Pinyon-juniper FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES40 Desert grasslands FRES41 Wet grasslands FRES42 Annual grasslands FRES44 Alpine STATES :


BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K008 Lodgepole pine - subalpine forest K022 Great Basin pine forest K023 Juniper - pinyon woodland K024 Juniper steppe woodland K026 Oregon oakwoods K027 Mesquite bosque K030 California oakwoods K031 Oak - juniper woodlands K032 Transition between K031 and K037 K034 Montane chaparral K035 Coastal sagebrush K037 Mountain-mahogany - oak scrub K038 Great Basin sagebrush K039 Blackbrush K040 Saltbush - greasewood K041 Creosotebush K042 Creosotebush - bursage K043 Paloverde - cactus shrub K044 Creosotebush - tarbush K045 Ceniza shrub K047 Fescue - oatgrass K048 California steppe K050 Fescue - wheatgrass K051 Wheatgrass - bluegrass K052 Alpine meadows and barren K053 Grama - galleta steppe K054 Grama - tobosa prairie K055 Sagebrush steppe K056 Wheatgrass - needlegrass shrubsteppe K057 Galleta - three-awn shrubsteppe K058 Grama - tobosa shrubsteppe K059 Trans-Pecos shrub savanna K060 Mesquite savanna K061 Mesquite - acacia savanna K062 Mesquite - live oak savanna K063 Foothills prairie K064 Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass K065 Grama - buffalograss K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass K068 Wheatgrass - grama - buffalograss K069 Bluestem - grama prairie K070 Sandsage - bluestem prairie K071 Shinnery K073 Northern cordgrass prairie K074 Bluestem prairie K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie K076 Blackland prairie K077 Bluestem - sacahuista prairie K083 Cedar glades K085 Mesquite - buffalograss K086 Juniper - oak savanna K087 Mesquite - oak savanna K088 Fayette prairie SAF COVER TYPES : 66 Ashe juniper - redberry (Pinchot) juniper 67 Mohrs (shin) oak 68 Mesquite 217 Aspen 218 Lodgepole pine 220 Rocky Mountain juniper 222 Black cottonwood - willow 233 Oregon white oak 235 Cottonwood - willow 238 Western juniper 239 Pinyon - juniper 240 Arizona cypress 241 Western live oak 242 Mesquite 243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer 246 California black oak 249 Canyon live oak 250 Blue oak - Digger pine 255 California coast live oak SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : Prairie falcons commonly occur in arid and semiarid shrubland and grassland community types. They are also occasionally found in open parklands within coniferous forests [21]. In the Sierra Nevada prairie falcons are primarily associated with perennial grasslands, lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) of varying canopy closures, and alpine meadows [34]. In British Columbia prairie falcons inhabit open treeless areas including arid grasslands and sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) steppe, alpine meadows and ridges, and less frequently, marshes and farmlands [12]. In northeastern Wyoming prairie falcons prefer grassland habitats over those with sagebrush when given the choice [33]. Prairie falcon habitat in northern Mexico is a combination of forest, woodland, and chaparral in the mountainous terrain surrounding the nest site, and grassland and desert scrub on the open slopes and valleys used for foraging [23].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco mexicanus
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Age at sexual maturity - Some prairie falcons breed when 1 year old, but most probably do not begin breeding until 2 years old [16,27]. Breeding season - The breeding season varies depending on geographic area. Reproductive activity usually begins in late winter or early spring. Courtship and mate selection occur on the breeding grounds at least 1 month before egg laying [16]. In California prairie falcons breed from mid-February to mid-September, with peak activity from early May to early August [34]. In Nevada they arrive on the breeding grounds in March and lay eggs in March or early April [19]. Clutch size and incubation - Prairie falcons generally lay three to six eggs. The eggs are incubated for 29 to 33 days. If the first clutch is destroyed another may be laid after 20 to 25 days [27,32]. Fledging - Nestlings fledge in 40 days [32]. Migration - Other than local movements to low elevations, many adult prairie falcons tend to be residents on their breeding range if there is an adequate year-round food supply [27,32]. During the nonbreeding season most juveniles and some adult prairie falcons migrate to the intermontane valleys and Great Plains [16]. Young prairie falcons in Wyoming and Colorado often move eastward from mountainous areas to the plains, where horned larks (Eremophila alpsetris) are numerous [27]. The adults seem to establish winter territories on their winter range [32]. In north-central Utah migrant prairie falcons usually arrive in the valleys in late October and remain there until March [27]. Longevity - Prairie falcons may live as long as 20 years; the longest known banding recovery is 13 years. Immature mortality has been estimated to be 75 percent and average annual adult mortality 25 percent. The average life expectancy of the prairie falcon has been estimated at 2.4 years [16]. PREFERRED HABITAT : Prairie falcons occupy open treeless terrain including prairies, deserts, riverine escarpments, canyons, foothills, and mountains in relatively arid western regions [13,16,32,34]. In the Sierra Nevada prairie falcons range above timberline in late summer but winter at lower elevations [34]. Nesting habitat - During the breeding season prairie falcons are commonly found in foothills and mountains which provide cliffs and escarpments suitable for nest sites [16]. Occasionally prairie falcons nest at altitudes of 10,000 feet (3,048 m), although this is exceptional. The highest recorded nest site is 11,699 feet (3,566 m) in Colorado [32]. Prairie falcons generally nest on cliffs, from low rock outcrops of 30 feet (9 m) to vertical cliffs 400 feet (121 m) high. They prefer cliffs with a sheltered ledge with loose debris or gravel for a nest, overlooking treeless country for hunting. They may also nest in potholes or large caves [32]. Prairie falcons sometimes use old nests of ravens (Corvus spp.), hawks, and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) [8,13,32]. Nest sites with southern or eastern exposures are preferred. However, in southwestern Idaho no preference was noted [16], and in the San Joaquin Valley, California, most prairie falcon nests had northern exposures and no south-facing ledges were used [32]. Prairie falcons usually have alternate nesting sites located on the same cliff and tend to use alternate ledges in succeeding years. Nesting failure does not seem to deter use of the cliff in the following year [32]. Of 36 nesting cliffs in Colorado and Wyoming, 14 were sandstone, 10 were sedimentary conglomerate, 7 were limestone, and 5 were granite. Twenty-two nesting ledges faced south, five faced north and nine faced east or west [32]. In southeastern Montana and northern Wyoming, Phillips and others [28] reported that all prairie falcon nests were found in cracks or potholes in sandstone cliffs. The mean distance between occupied nest sites was 4.8 miles (7.8 km) [28]. In British Columbia prairie falcon nests were situated on ledges, in caves, in crevices, and in potholes on cliffs. Nesting cliffs were granite or sandstone and ranged from 49 to 453 feet (15-138 m) in height; the actual nest site ranged from 29 to 295 feet (9-90 m) from the base of the cliff [12]. Foraging habitat - Prairie falcons generally forage in open areas with low vegetation containing ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.) and passerine birds. They tend to have definite hunting ranges. When food is plentiful these areas are confined to the least possible radius necessary to secure required food supplies [32], but prairie falcons will forage up to 15 miles (24 km) from the nest [21]. The usual hunting method consists of flying at a altitude of 50 to 300 feet (15-91 m) and diving at potential prey. Prairie falcons also hunt from perches. Prairie falcons often eat while perched on a convenient vantage point or on the ground where they have captured their prey [32]. During the breeding season extra food is cached near the nest for subsequent use [16]. Winter habitat - Winter habitat for prairie falcons is generally the same as nesting habitat, except that high elevation areas are not used [27]. In northern Colorado winter ranges (maximum distance between observation points of individual marked birds) averaged 3.8 miles (6.1 km) for males and 7.2 miles (11.5 km) for females. The maximum range was 12.1 miles (919.4 km) for one female [34]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Nests are often recessed in a cliff to provide protection from mammalian predators, shelter, and shade [1,12,27]. Nests are rarely located at the top of a cliff [27]. In southwestern Idaho 60 percent of the nests surveyed were in cavities that afforded some protection for the eggs and young; 19 percent were on exposed ledges [26]. The need for cover does not seem to affect foraging behavior. Prairie falcons prefer to hunt in open areas covered only by short, sparse ground vegetation [32]. FOOD HABITS : Prairie falcons eat a wide variety of prey including mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. In many areas mammals, primarily ground squirrels, are the major prey item eaten during the breeding season [16,19,32]. In areas lacking ground squirrels, small- to medium-sized birds and reptiles are major prey items [16]. The horned lark is the main food item for prairie falcons wintering in the wheat-growing areas of the western United States [16,32]. Prairie falcons develop prey preferences and will concentrate on a single species or group of species exclusively for as long as possible. When those species have diminished in the hunting area, a new prey species is selected and hunted [32]. Some prairie falcon prey items not mentioned above include pocket gophers (Geomyidae), cottontails and jackrabbits (Leporidae), pikas (Ochotona spp.), wood rats (Neotoma spp.), mice, mourning doves (Zenaida macroura), burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), jays (Corvidae), western meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta), blackbirds, shrikes (Lanius spp.), wrens (Troglodytidae), lark buntings (Calamospiza melanocorys), magpies (Pica spp.), sparrows (Emberizidae), quail (Phasianidae), longspurs (Calcarius spp.), pigeons (Columbidae), ducks (Anatidae), lizards, grasshoppers, and beetles [13,27,32]. PREDATORS : Adult prairie falcons are seldom killed by predators, although adult incubating birds are sometimes taken by great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) at night [16]. Predation by coyotes (Canis latrans), dogs (Canis familiaris), badgers (Taxidea taxus), bobcats (Lynx rufus), golden eagles, and great horned owls is probably the greatest overall factor in nestling mortality by predators [16,26,32]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : The current breeding status of prairie falcons is unknown. In Utah prairie falcons show reduced occupation rates at historical nests and total extirpation from others. Some western Montana populations may not be stable, while Idaho contains an apparently stable population. A declining Canadian population has shown some recovery [9]. Breeding habitat loss is probably the most important factor threatening prairie falcon populations. Artificial aeries with reinforcing frames should be considered for prairie falcon management where development activities affect the availability or useability of natural aeries or where substrate conditions reduce aerie longevity [25,31]. Alteration of prey habitat has also had an impact on prairie falcon populations [16]. Broad expanses of grassland and prairie with occasional scattered trees provide excellent habitat for prairie falcons. Unfortunately much of this habitat has been altered by cultivation, water impoundments, or heavy grazing, which reduces the area of suitable habitat for many prey species [20]. Range management practices that produce or maintain ranges in good condition provide a greater abundance and variety of prey for many raptor species including prairie falcons [11]. Organochlorine contaminants and mercury appear to have been primarily responsible for earlier prairie falcon declines because of direct effects on prairie falcons and effects on their prey base. Restrictions on DDT and mercury use have considerably alleviated the declines caused by biocide pollution, but populations in areas of agricultural pesticide use continue to show lowered reproduction. In areas where prairie falcons feed primarily on birds, productivity and nest success are much lower than where the diet is primarily mammalian. In California pest control eliminated 1 million passerines from 1966 to 1972; roughly 30 percent of these were horned larks [16]. Human disturbance near prairie falcon nest sites during the breeding season may result in nest abandonment [16]. Construction of homes at the base of cliffs throughout the West has caused prairie falcons to leave areas where they may have nested for generations [11]. High levels of human disturbance near historical nesting territories were thought to be responsible for declines of prairie falcons in the Mojave Desert [9]. Boyce [9] suggested placing roads at least a 15-minute walk from a prairie falcon nest, preferably a 30-minute walk. He also suggests placing restrictions on recreational activities and/or closure of habitat near nests if possible. Prairie falcons are being bred successfully in captivity. Captive-raised birds are being placed in wild aeries to help managers develop techniques for reintroduction of peregrine falcons. Captive-raised prairie falcons are also raised for falconry purposes [16].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco mexicanus
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Direct mortality from fire is rare for raptors [24]. Adults can probably easily escape fire, and eggs and nestlings are rarely in locations that can burn. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Prairie falcons occur in the following five major fire-dependent plant associations in the western United States: grasslands, semidesert shrub-grasslands, sagebrush-grasslands, chaparral, and pinyon-juniper (Pinus spp.-Juniperus spp.) [24]. Grassland raptors such as prairie falcons have been adversely affected by fire exclusion wherever woodlands have encroached upon grasslands [24]. Periodic fire may enhance the foraging habitat of prairie falcons and increase the prey base [3,14,24]. Several studies indicate that many small mammal and bird populations increase rapidly subsequent to burning in response to increased food availability [14,24]. Additionally, fires in grasslands may increase prey availability by removing accumulated litter and reducing cover [3]. Fire suppression in grasslands is detrimental to populations of small bird and mammal herbivores due to organic matter accumulation and reduced plant vigor [35]. Raptors associated with pinyon-juniper woodlands depend upon edges of openings created by fire and scattered islands of unburned woodlands [14]. Although fire is often beneficial to prairie falcon prey species, Yensen and others [36] reported that in the Snake River Birds of Prey Area, southwestern Idaho, fire may reduce populations of Townsend's ground squirrels (Spermophilus townsendii), a major prey species of prairie falcons. FIRE USE : To create or maintain desert grasslands, prescribed burning at an interval not less than 5 years is recommended. Periodic fire at approximately 5-year intervals will probably maintain an open condition, though burning over successive years may be necessary to eliminate woody invaders. Five-year intervals between fires allow for herbaceous plant recovery while not adversely affecting prey populations. The goal of prescribed burning in chaparral should be to create opportunities for perennial grass to extend the open grass-shrub character. Complete elimination of climax chaparral species is not recommended. Periodic fire at approximately 5-year intervals will probably maintain an open condition. In most cases, burning plans must be integrated with proper range management. Postfire seeding of perennial grasses as well as rest from livestock grazing may be necessary to achieve desired goals. Because of human disturbance, prescribed burning should be deferred until nesting is completed in areas where impact to breeding prairie falcons may occur [14]. For more information regarding the use of prescribed fire in specific habitats for the benefit of raptors in general, see Dodd [14].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco mexicanus
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[Ogden, UT]: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Region. 32 p. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. [17208] 6. Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1962. Life histories of North American wild fowl. Part 1. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 244 p. [20027] 7. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 8. Boyce, Douglas A., Jr. 1987. Nest site characteristics of prairie falcons in the Mojave Desert, California. Journal of Raptor Research. 21(1): 35-38. [22971] 9. Boyce, Douglas A., Jr. 1988. Factors affecting prairie falcon fledgling productivity in the Mojave Desert, Califoria. 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Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Denver Service Center: 313-349. [13527] 22. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 23. Lanning, Dirk V; Hitchcock, Mark A. 1991. Breeding distribution and habitat of prairie falcons in northern Mexico. Condor. 93(3): 762-765. [20342] 24. Lehman, Robert N.; Allendorf, John W. 1989. The effects of fire, fire exclusion and fire management on raptor habitats in the western United States. In: Proceedings of the western raptor management symposium and workshop; 1987 October 26-28; Boise, ID. Scientific and Technical Series No. 12. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation: 236-244. [22324] 25. Mayer, Paul M.; Allen, George T. 1987. Reinforced artificial aeries for prairie falcons. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 15(2): 207-209. [136] 26. Ogden, Verland T.; Hornocker, Maurice G. 1977. Nesting density and success of prairie falcons in southwestern Idaho. Journal of Wildlife Management. 41(1): 1-11. [22976] 27. Palmer, Ralph S., editor. 1988. Handbook of North American birds. Volume 5. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 463 p. [22303] 28. Phillips, Robert L.; Wheeler, Anne H.; Lockhart, J. Michael; [and others]. 1990. Nesting ecology of golden eagles and other raptors in southeastern Montana and northern Wyoming. Fish and Wildlife Technical Report 26. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 13 p. [15474] 29. Pitcher, Edward J. 1977. Nest site selection for prairie falcons. Auk. 94(2): 371. [22979] 30. Platt, Stephen W.; Enderson, James H. 1989. Falcons. In: Proceedings of the western raptor management symposium and workshop; [Date of conference unknown]; Boise, ID. NWF Scientific and Technical Series No. 12. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation: 111-117. [22968] 31. Smith, Earl D. 1985. Construction of artificial nesting sites for prairie falcons. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 13: 543-546. [22977] 32. Snow, Carol. 1974. Habitat management series for unique or endangered species: Report No. 8: Prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus). T-N-240. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Denver Service Center. 18 p. [22978] 33. Squires, John R.; Anderson, Stanley H.; Oakleaf, Robert. 1993. Home range size and habitat-use patterns of nesting prairie falcons near oil developments in northeastern Wyoming. Journal of Field Ornithology. 64(1): 1-10. [21971] 34. Verner, Jared; Boss, Allan S., tech. coords. 1980. California wildlife and their habitats: western Sierra Nevada. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-37. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 439 p. [10237] 35. Wagle, R. F. 1981. Fire: its effects on plant succession and wildlife in the Southwest. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona. 82 p. [4031] 36. Yensen, Eric; Quinney, Dana L.; Johnson, Kathrine; [and others]. 1992. Fire, vegetation changes, and population fluctuations of Townsend's ground squirrels. American Midland Naturalist. 128(2): 299-312. [19682] 37. Hubbard, John Patrick; Hubbard, Claudia L. 1979. Birds of New Mexico's national parklands. Glenwood, NM: Tecolote Press, Inc. 40 p. [22827] 38. Stebbins, C. A.; Stebbins, R. C. 1954. [Unknown]. Yosemite Nature Notes. 33(8): 74-152. [22959] 39. Washington Department of Wildlife. 1994. Species of special concern in Washington - state and federal status. Olympia, WA: Washington Department of Wildlife. 41 p. [25414]

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