Falcons are predatory birds characterised by long, pointed wings and rapid flight. There are five members of the falcon family in BC. They range in size from the American Kestrel at about 25cm in length up to the Gyrfalcon at 55cm. The kestrel is the most widespread in BC. In summer its diet shifts to insects, particularly grasshoppers. When such items are not available they are quite capable of taking small rodents and birds. Over much of its range, the Merlin is generally not as common as the kestrel but in Nakusp, it’s quite the opposite. Kestrels prefer open habitat, something we have little of, whereas Merlins are quite at home in forested areas. Their diet consists largely of small birds, but I have also seen them eating large insects, particularly dragonflies. One of their favourite nest-sites is the abandoned nests of crows. Since crows are usually found near human habitation, Merlins have become quite at home in towns and cities. At about 30cm in length, the Merlin is a bit larger than the kestrel but still considerably smaller than a crow.
Other falcons that occur in BC, are Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon and Gyrfalcon. These are all quite rare in this region. In the 40 years I have lived here I have seen about a dozen Prairie Falcons, three Peregrines and only one Gyrfalcon. The Gyrfalcon breeds in the Arctic, so it’s not surprising that so few are seen in the south. Some years, however, a few may wander into southern Canada during the winter. Prairie Falcons, as the name suggests, are more often found in open country. In BC, they occasionally breed in alpine regions. Many years ago I saw one near Paint Lake in the Monashee Mountains. But most of my sightings have been during the fall migration when southbound birds sometimes move through the valleys. Peregrine Falcons are quite widespread in BC, but interior birds generally avoid closed forests.
Last week I saw a Peregrine flying across the Nakusp Golf Course. It was circling as it went and appeared to be moving in a leisurely manner. But that suddenly changed when it folded its wings and plumitted earthward. Peregrine Falcons are well-known for their high-speed dives; sometimes achieving speeds in excess of 300 km/h. I was unable to see its intended victim since my view was blocked by trees, but it seemed to be headed toward the small pond on number six, where I had seen a small duck, (a Bufflehead), just a few minutes before! A couple of days later I caught a quick glimpse of another falcon flying over my house; I suspect it was also a Peregrine — perhaps the same one.