Falcons With White Heads – The ONLY 5 Species (With Photos!)

If you’re looking for help to identify falcons with white heads, this will be the best article you read today. 

In this post, you will find photos, identification info, calls, and all the fun information you need. 

There are 5 species of falcons with white heads: the laughing falcon, gyrfalcon (largest falcon in the world), white-fronted falconet, gray falcon, and the crested caracara.

The main reason why falcons have white heads is a pigment called melanin.

Melanin is a black pigment that produces that black color of feathers in birds – falcons that have white heads have a lack of that pigmentation!

Here are their photos and fun facts.

Falcons With White Heads

Laughing Falcon

Laughing Falcon
  • Scientific Name: Herpetotheres cachinnans
  • Lifespan: n/a
  • Size: 18-22 in
  • Wingspan: 31-37 in

Incorrectly called snake hawks as they are falcons, laughing falcons are medium-sized raptors found in Mexico, Central, and South America. 

Their English (laughing) and Latin name (“cachinnans” meaning “laughing aloud”) are after their distinctive and loud voice. 

These birds of prey measure 18-22 inches long, weigh 0.9-1.8 pounds, and have a wingspan of 31-37 in; females are bigger than males. 

Laughing falcons have creamy white heads with black “bandit masks,” dark brown upperparts, black and white tails, dark brown eyes, black beaks with yellow cere (base), and yellow legs. 

The light parts of the plumage of immatures are almost completely white. 

With their big white heads and conspicuous facial masks, these falcons are unmistakable.

Identify laughing falcons also by their far-carrying laughs that resemble human cries and sound like “wah-wah” or “whah-whah“. 

They will also emit longer “ha-cow” and “ha-cah” maniacal calls. You might also hear two birds singing in a duet with each bird calling at different pitches and rhythms. 

In some folklore, people thought that these falcons could predict the weather – if they call from a dead branch, the weather will be fine, but if they did so while perched on a branch with green leaves, there will be rain. 

Laughing flacons inhabit open forests and edges, palm savannahs, and second growth, ranging from coastal slopes of Mexico, through Central and South America, down to Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. 

Their breeding season depends on the latitude. The species are monogamous, nest in cliff or tree cavities, and lay 1 whitish egg with brown spots. 

Laughing falcons are carnivores and have a diet consisting of snakes, lizards, rodents, fish, and even bats. 

They hunt while perched on exposed branches, looking at the ground with their bowed heads, and then pouncing on the prey quickly and grabbing it with their beaks or talons. They fly slowly with rapid shallow wing beats; they do not soar. 

Indigenous people of Mexico called the Ch’ol Mayas of Chiapas believe that laughing falcons are immune to snake bites and that they can cure themselves if bitten. 

When curing a snake bite, Mexican Tzotzil people will imitate the call of a laughing falcon.


Gyrfalcon

gyrfalcon
  • Scientific Name: Falco rusticolus
  • Lifespan: up to 20 years
  • Size: 19-24 in
  • Wingspan: 43-63 in

Gyrfalcons are the largest falcon species in the world. 

Males measure 19-24 inches long, weigh 1.7-2.8 pounds, and have a wingspan of 43-51 in. Females are larger than males and measure 20-25.6 inches long, weigh 2.6-4.6 pounds, and have a wingspan of 49-63 in. 

These white raptors inhabit open fields, coastlines, dunes, prairie, and shrubsteppe, and come in 3 main morphs: white, gray, and blackish-brown. 

White-morph gyrfalcons have white heads with fine black stripes on the crown, barred white upperparts, black-tipped wing feathers, and white underparts with a few small dark spots on breasts, bellies, flanks, and sides. 

During medieval times, the gyrfalcon was considered a royal bird, highly valued as a hunting asset, and could be used exclusively by the King.

Darker morphs have deep gray upperparts, darker wings, white underparts, and white-streaked heads. 

Although mostly quiet species, when they are near their nest, gyrfalcons will make loud “kiak-kiak” and “giik-giik” calls. 

Source: BubulcusCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

They breed on Arctic coasts and tundra, the islands of northern North America, northern parts of Europe and Asia, Greenland, and Iceland. 

Their only predator is the golden eagle, but in most cases, they will avoid these formidable white-headed falcons. 

On the other hand, the gyrfalcons’ prey includes the ptarmigan, waterfowl, some fish, and mammals. 

Gyrfalcons hunt by flying fast low over the ground and catch birds after a brief pursuit or over a longer distance. They are excellent fliers that might hover over the vegetation to drive out the prey and then catch it. 

These falcons are monogamous and stay together until one of the birds dies.

They bred from March to July, nest in scrapes and depression in cliff ledges, and lay 3-7 eggs that females incubate – both parents will feed the chicks. 


White-fronted Falconet

White-fronted Falconet
Source: John Gerrard Keulemans, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Microhierax latifrons
  • Lifespan: n/a
  • Size: 5.5-6.7 in
  • Wingspan: 11-12 in

White-fronted falconets, also known as Bornean falconets, are one of the smallest falcon species in the world. 

They measure just 5.5-6.7 inches in length, weigh 1.2-2.3 ounces, and have a wingspan of 11-12 inches. 

These white-headed falcons are endemic to the Asian island of Borneo, in the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, and in the northeastern part of Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo).

White-throated falconets have bluish-black upperparts, black flanks, white throats, cheeks, and breasts. 

Differentiate them from other falconet species by their white head crowns and foreheads in males. 

Identify them also by their “kree-kree” calls. 

White-fronted falconets are common around open forests, forest edges, and clearings, where they perch up on bare tree branches. 

They breed from March to June, nest in woodpecker holes, and lay 2 eggs. 

White-fronted falconets are carnivores and mainly feed on insects and some birds. They hunt from perches, swooping down to grab the prey, and then returning to the perch to feast on the catch. 

Due to loss of habitat, deforestation, forest fires, and bird trade, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as Near Threatened

According to some estimates, there are 15,000-30,000 of these birds in existence today.


Gray Falcon

Gray Falcon
Source: Christopher Watson (http://www.comebirdwatching.blogspot.com/), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Falco hypoleucos
  • Lifespan: n/a
  • Size: 11.8-17.7 in
  • Wingspan: 33.4-37.4 in

Grey falcons are an elusive species endemic to Australia. 

These medium-sized raptors are one of the rarest of the Australian falcons. 

Part of their scientific name “hypoleucos” comes from Ancient Greek, translates to “under” and “white,” and refers to their looks. 

Speaking of appearances, gray falcons have mostly gray upperparts and white underparts – their heads are white-gray (faces are white and the caps are gray). 

Females are about 30% larger than males, similar to other falcons on our list. 

Identify them also by their whining, clucking, and chattering sounds: listen for their loud “kek-kek” calls. 

They inhabit mainland Australia and can be commonly found in grasslands, shrublands, and timbered arid woodlands. 

Gray falcons can be often seen hunting; they eat on the ground and prey on birds, mammals, reptiles, and some worms. 

They nest from July to October in the southern parts of Australia or from April to June in the northern parts, have a clutch of 2-4 eggs, and lay them in old nests of other birds. 


Crested Caracara

crested caracara
  • Scientific Name: Caracara cheriway
  • Lifespan: up to 30 years
  • Size: 20-26 in
  • Wingspan: 47-52 in

Crested caracaras are large raptors found from the southern USA through Central and South America down to the southernmost tip of the South American mainland.

With a length of up to 26 in, a wingspan of up to 52 in, and a weight of up to 3.5 pounds, crested caracaras are the second-largest species of falcon in the world, smaller only than the gyrfalcon.

These birds of prey nest and forage in open areas year-round, and can be seen in habitats that include grasslands, deserts, rangelands, and scrubby areas, at altitudes ranging from sea level up to 10,000 feet.

Crested caracaras are dark brown overall and have white necks, black caps on their white heads, orange facial skin, and long yellow legs.

Although mainly quiet, crested caracaras might make some rattling sounds, like moving a stick along the fence, during the breeding season.

Source: Oliver KomarCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Crested caracaras are opportunistic feeders that eat carcasses, food of other raptors, insects, and some fruit. They will often chase away black and turkey vultures from roadkills. 

Despite being usually seen alone or in small family groups, when roosting or feeding on a carcass, crested caracaras might form groups of 20 to 80 birds at a time.

You might also notice these large and long-legged birds of prey walking on the ground or perching conspicuously on a fence post or telephone pole.

Crested caracaras nest alone in trees or on the ground, build nests using sticks, grass, feathers, bones, or pellets, and lay 2-3 brown eggs, from November to February. Both parents incubate the eggs.

Crested caracaras are also the national emblem of Mexico, and are also named “Mexican eagles”.

These white-headed falcons are native to Florida and can be seen there year-round.


Summary

This concludes our list of falcons with white heads. 

Examples include the largest falcon in the world, the gyrfalcon, the second-largest falcon, the crested caracara, one of the smallest, the white-fronted falconet, and others.

Next time, should you see these birds in person, you should be able to recognize any of them with ease! Please just make sure you are watching them from a safe distance.

And if you enjoyed our article, here are our other popular reads on birds: Hawks that have white heads

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