Scientists used to classify falcons among the hawks. But more recent research has determined they are actually more closely related to woodpeckers!
There are three falcon species found in Massachusetts.
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
The robin-sized American Kestrel is a bird of the open field and the lucky observer might see it hovering in place as it searches for grasshoppers or small rodents. It is a cavity nester and will adapt readily to human-provided nest boxes. Sadly, this colorful little falcon is in serious decline in Massachusetts, probably because of the loss of grasslands and suburban sprawl.
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
The merlin is only slightly larger than the kestrel, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in attitude. It feeds mostly on small birds which it can capture in midair. The merlin only recently nested for the first time in Massachusetts and is still rarely seen in summer, but is regularly seen during the rest of the year, particularly in fall migration. Adult males are gray, and females and juveniles are brown.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
The fastest bird on Earth, the peregrine falcon was extirpated from Massachusetts in the 1950s when the pesticide DDT caused its eggshells to crack and break before the young were ready to hatch. It has recovered well and current numbers exceed historical highs. Only a handful of peregrines now use nest sites on cliffs as they did in the past, and most exploiting tall buildings or bridges in cities where local rock pigeons provide a steady food supply.