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Are falcons red?

Falcons are amazing birds of prey found all over the world. But are they red? Let’s take a closer look at falcons and their coloring.

Falcons belong to the family Falconidae, which includes caracaras, falconets, forest falcons, and true falcons. They are widespread birds of prey found on every continent except Antarctica. Falcons come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with wingspans ranging from 20 inches to over 4 feet. Their plumage can be quite variable, but most falcons have dark gray, brown, black, or white feathers on their back and wings, with lighter undersides. The peregrine falcon is the most widespread falcon species and has slate-blue-gray wings and back.

So are falcons red? For the most part, no, falcons do not have red plumage. However, there are a couple of exceptions. The adult male American kestrel, a small North American falcon, has colorful rusty-red feathers on its back and wings. The red-footed falcon, found in Africa and Eurasia, also has distinctive red legs and feet and red facial skin. But besides those two examples, red plumage is quite uncommon in falcons. Most falcons have more subdued colors like dark browns, tans, blacks, and whites.

While they may lack vibrant red feathers, many falcons do have reddish or orange eyes, beaks, and talons. And some, like the red-footed falcon, have red bare skin on their faces. So while red feathers are rare, red coloration can appear in other areas on certain falcon species.

Falcon Species and Coloring

To better understand falcon coloring and patterns, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common falcon species:

Species Locations Plumage
Peregrine falcon Found on all continents except Antarctica Blue-gray back and wings, pale underside with dark speckles
Merlin North America, Europe, Asia, Africa Blue-gray back, lighter underside with brown streaks
American kestrel Americas Rusty red back and wings in males, brown with black spots in females
Eurasian hobby Europe, Asia, Africa Dark slate gray back, white underside with dark streaks
Gyrfalcon Arctic regions Plumage varies from dark brown to white
Red-footed falcon Southern Europe, Africa Gray back, rust-red underside, red legs/feet

This table summarizes some of the most widespread falcon species and their typical plumage patterns. As you can see, most have gray, brown, black, or white feathers. Only the American kestrel and red-footed falcon have truly red plumage. The kestrel’s vibrant rusty feathers are unique among North American falcons. And the red-footed falcon’s red legs, feet, and facial skin stand out among related species. But red feathers are uncommon for most falcons.

Male vs. Female Falcon Coloring

There can also be differences in coloration between male and female falcons of the same species. In many species, the males have brighter, more colorful plumage while females are more subdued. For example, male American kestrels have vibrant red backs and wings while females are tan and brown with dark spots. Male merlins also have darker gray plumage than their browner female counterparts. This sexual dimorphism is common in raptors like falcons and helps the sexes recognize each other and potential mates.

Species Male Coloring Female Coloring
American kestrel Rusty red back and wings Brown back with black spots
Merlin Dark slate gray back Brown back with streaks
Peregrine falcon Blue-gray back Browner gray back
Eurasian hobby Dark gray back Brownish gray back

As seen above, male falcons frequently have more vibrant, starker plumage than females of the species. However, red feathering is still very limited, only occurring in the American kestrel. For most falcon species, red feathers are not the norm in either sex.

Falcon Chicks and Juveniles

Baby falcons and juvenile birds can also look quite different from the adults. Newly hatched chicks are covered in white down. As they grow feathers, young falcons initially have pale tan, brown, or gray plumage. Their colors darken and intensify as they reach adulthood. For example, young peregrine falcons have brown feathers until they fully mature and develop the distinctive blue-gray back.

Here are the appearance changes in some falcon species from chicks to juveniles to adults:

Species Chicks Juveniles Adults
Peregrine falcon White down Brown feathers Blue-gray back
American kestrel White down Brown streaked tan Rusty red in males
Merlin White down Brown streaked underside Blue-gray back
Eurasian hobby White down Brown streaked tan Dark slate gray back

Young falcons go through a progression of color changes before reaching mature adult plumage. But even juvenile falcons lack bright red feathers. The rufous coloring doesn’t appear until adulthood in the American kestrel.

Why Don’t Most Falcons Have Red Feathers?

There are a few theories as to why red plumage is so rare in falcons:

– Camouflage – Most falcons have evolved natural camouflage with muted grays, browns, and whites that blend into their environments when hunting. Bright red would stand out and spook prey.

– Sexual signaling – Vibrant red feathers seen in the American kestrel may be used to attract mates rather than camouflage. Most falcons don’t need such conspicuous sexual signals.

– Diet – Pigments that produce red colors may be lacking in the typical falcon diet of birds, rodents, and insects. Flamingos get their pink hue from carotenoids in shrimp and algae.

– Genetics – Something in falcon DNA and genetics may limit the presence of genes coding for red pigments in feathers. Exceptions like kestrels may have mutations allowing for red.

So in summary, camouflage needs, limited sexual signaling, diet, and genetics all may play a role in the rarity of red coloration in falcons. They seem to lack evolutionary pressures favoring red feathers.


While vibrant red plumage is beautiful in many bird species, it is very uncommon in falcons. Most falcons have gray, brown, black, or white feathers specialized for camouflage when hunting. Male American kestrels and red-footed falcons are the main exceptions with their rusty red feathers and skin. Juvenile falcons also lack red coloration, only developing brighter adult plumage with age. Overall, evolution seems to have selected for more inconspicuous, practical coloring in falcons. So while a flaming red falcon would be a striking sight, falcons seem to get along just fine without much red in their plumage. Subdued colors suit their predatory lifestyle. So in general, no, falcons are not red!