The scientific falcon family has 63 recognised species which are split into three different families: Caracaras (Daptriidae), Forest Falcons (Herpetotheridae) and the pygmy falcons, Old World falconets, and the larger fast flying falcons and kestrels (Falconidae).

Falconidae – typical falcons and pygmy falcons


  • There are 39 species recognised in the Falco genus (larger falcons and kestrels).
  • The largest species of falcon is the Gyr Falcon. They originate from around the Arctic Circle and are occasionally seen in the British Isles. In historical times the rent for the Isle of Man was two white Gyr Falcons.
  • The Peregrine is the fastest recorded flying bird in the world. Reaching a top speed of around 200mph in a full stoop (dive).
Peregrine (falco peregrinus)
  • The rarest species of falcon in the world is the Mauritius Kestrel. A massive conservation project started on this species in the 1970’s and in 1977 only 4 birds were known to exist in the wild. Through techniques of captive breeding and release, there are now over 800 birds living on 3 different sub-populations. The work on this species is carried out by the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation (see Worldwide Raptor Conservation).
  • The second most rare species in the world is the Seychelles Kestrel (also the smallest species in the Falco genus) followed by the Orange-breasted Falcon of Central and Southern America. The Orange-breasted Falcon originates from a very large area but for unknown reasons has declined dramatically.
  • The Kestrels are a group of falcons that have developed the impressive art of hovering to find their prey. The different species of falcon are found throughout the world. Most species of kestrel are dimorphic (male and female being different colourations).

Herpetotheridae – Forest Falcons and Laughing Falcon

The Forest Falcons are in the genus Microherax. They are small to medium sized birds with extremely long tails. They are generally barred in colour to break up the outline in the rainforest trees. All species originate from Central and Southern America.

Daptriidae – Caracaras

The are 9 species of Caracara mainly from South America, but some are in Central America and one species’ range extends to the southern parts of the US. They are mostly scavengers but will take small prey species (birds, mammals, reptiles and insects). Some species have a very restricted range and have probably evolved into seperate species following isolation. One species, Striated Caracara, originates from the Falkland Islands and other small islands off the tip of South America.

The most widespread species is the Crested or Common Caracara. They get their name from the call they make when throwing back their head – which does sound similar to “cara-cara”!

References for Falcon information:

  • Cade T.J. (1982) Falcons of the World. Collins, London
  • Ferguson-Lees J. and Chrsitie D.A (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm, London