For many birds, winter is all about the struggle for survival. Falcons migrate to increase the likelihood of surviving until the following year. However, reaching another year is no good if they cannot breed. In this article, we look at where falcons go during the winter.
Falcons need to survive winter, but not all falcons migrate. After migration, the pressure of finding a new territory makes many males stay in the same area year-round, while females will often move to warmer areas. Falcons in extremely cold areas may migrate, although some residents in Alaska stay there year-round.
Winter is just the start for falcons, and migration is an excellent way to survive the winter. Although they may survive the cold, they need to find a nesting site when winter ends. Not all falcons migrate, and the pressure of finding a nesting site in spring probably gets them to stay and brave the cold.
Pairs will often stay together in their territories in milder areas, but where the cold weather is more severe, they may separate. In the highlands of Scotland, pairs of Kestrels often separate, with the female leaving the male who stays behind.
Males have more to lose by leaving their territories than females, and in Canada, male Merlins often stay behind to protect their territory throughout winter.
Peregrine falcons in Britain often stay together at their cliffside nests, but they will move to lower ground when the temperature drops. At least one bird occupies most Peregrine nests throughout winter.
While adults have more to lose by giving up their territory, falcons born that year have little to lose by moving to lower land. Juveniles need plenty of food, and more food is found at lower ground. However, the young falcons may stay upland if there is plenty of food with voles making up a large part of their diet, but in years with low food, they will all move on, leaving only adults.
The winter range varies in some areas no matter the age of the falcon, with males, females and juveniles all moving to lower ground. Females prefer to move to areas with open habitats, while males have been spotted more in wooded or forested areas. Females usually move to the areas before males, leaving the less desirable habitats for males.
Territories in winter
Kestrels are fiercely territorial in winter, with individuals or pairs defending the area from others. Squabbles can be seen mostly in September and October as young birds try to take their place in between the territories of more-established birds.
Fighting can be very aggressive, with the talons doing most of the damage, drawing blood in some cases. With more birds in the area, the smaller their territories become, and their size is also affected by food availability. With lower amounts of food, territories can sometimes become five times as big as when food is abundant.
Falcons are generally good at respecting other birds’ territories, but if a bird in another territory dies, they will quickly expand their territory into their neighbours.
There are fewer birds in winter because they either migrate or die, but in spring, there is generally a huge rise in numbers. Many birds return from migration, and new birds are born, bringing a huge boost to migratory populations. In sedentary populations, the numbers are fewer over winter due to death but return to normal in spring.
Hobbies from Britain fly thousands of miles to migrate to West Africa and can be seen in the savannas to the south of the continent. They feed on various flying insects, including grasshoppers, locusts, and termites.
Hobbies can be seen flying with Lesser kestrels and Red-footed falcons looking for food. Insects are abundant after the rainy season, and Hobbies can be seen following the seasonal rain northwards. Hobbies stay in Africa before returning to Britain in April, where they breed.
In North America, Kestrels fly southwards in winter to escape the cold. While some will go as far as Central America, most will reach the lower states and decide to stay there for winter.
Kestrels in Britain will stay in Britain but move further southwards to escape the cold. Some Kestrels from Scandinavia make the trip to Britain for winter. However, they don’t always turn up in the best condition and often need some help. However, these are quite rare, with only about 100 ringed individuals showing up in the last hundred years.
Peregrine falcons in the United States have one of the longest migrations, with trips of over 10,000km. Birds from colder climates will often make the trip down to South America for winter. In The Journal Of Raptor Research, it was noted that eight falcons at various breeding sites from Alaska to Minnesota, Nebraska, and Nunavut were all found in Peru. Thirteen other falcons from Texas were also spotted in Peru.
The Amur falcon is a small raptor that is known for migrating in large flocks. They breed in south-eastern Siberia and Northern China before they migrate to Southern and East Africa. They have the longest sea-crossing of any raptor, with a flight of over 22,000km.
Amur falcons, like other raptors, are generally solitary birds, but the migration sees hundreds of thousands of falcons making the journey. They migrate southwards through India and Sri Lanka and over the Arabian Sea.
During their migration, they make several stops. Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Assam all see large flocks of Amur falcons descend on the area. This led to widespread poaching in Nagaland in 2012, with many thousands of birds killed. With the intervention of the Indian government and conservationists, there were no killings of the Amur falcon in 2013.