Amur falcon (Falco amurensis)
|Also known as:||Amur red-footed falcon, eastern red-footed falcon, eastern red-footed kestrel, eastern red-legged falcon, Manchurian falcon, Manchurian red-footed falcon|
|French:||Faucon de l'Amour|
|Size||Length: 26 - 30 cm (2) (3)|
Male weight: 97 - 155 g (2)
Female weight: 111 - 188 g (2)
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).
A small, slender bird of prey, with long, pointed wings (5) (6), the Amur falcon is noteworthy for undertaking one of the most arduous annual migrations of any bird of prey (6). The male is a largely dark grey bird, with a chestnut lower belly and thighs, and a white underwing, visible in flight. The dark plumage contrasts with the bright orange-red legs and facial skin, and the orange base to the beak (3) (5). The female is similar in size to the male (3) (5), but differs markedly in plumage, having cream or orange underparts, with dark streaks and bars, grey upperparts with a slaty-coloured head and cream forehead, and bars and spots on the wings and tail, which have broad, dark tips. The cheeks and throat are plain white, and the face bears a dark eye patch and ‘moustache’. The juvenile resembles the female, but may be paler, with reddish-brown or buff edges to the feathers (2) (3) (5). Interestingly, the Amur falcon is one of only a few birds of prey to have white claws (7). Once considered a subspecies of the red-footed falcon, Falco vespertinus, differences in the plumage, body shape and range of the Amur falcon have led to its classification as a separate species (2).
The Amur falcon has a wide distribution, breeding across Asia, from eastern Siberia, east through Amurland to Ussuriland, and south through northeast Mongolia and Manchuria, to North Korea and northern and eastern China. The species may also breed in northeast India. The Amur falcon spends the northern winter in the southern Hemisphere, in sub-Saharan Africa, mainly from Malawi to South Africa. During migration, the Amur falcon may pass through parts of India, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (2) (3) (5) (8).
The Amur falcon typically inhabits open woodland, including marshy and riverine woodland, as well as wooded steppe. In winter, it may be found in savanna and grassland, roosting communally in clumps of trees, and often roosts in towns (2) (3) (5) (7) (9).
The Amur falcon feeds mainly on insects, including locusts, grasshoppers, beetles, and flying termites. Small birds and some amphibians may also be taken. Hunting may take place throughout the day (7), with prey usually caught and eaten in flight, or taken from the ground. The Amur falcon typically hovers while searching for prey (2) (5) (7). A social bird, the Amur falcon is usually found in flocks, sometimes numbering into the hundreds or even thousands, and often associates with other small falcon species such as the red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus) and the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) (2) (3) (9). The congregation of thousands to tens of thousands of falcons at their communal roosting sites in southern Africa (7) is said to be one of the most spectacular bird of prey phenomena in the world (10). Most nesting, however, is solitary, or in small colonies (2) (3). The nest may be built in a tree hole, or the breeding pair may take over an old nest of a corvid. Three to four eggs are laid (sometimes up to six), usually between May and June, and hatch after an incubation period of around 28 to 30 days. Both the male and female help incubate and feed the chicks, which fledge after about a month. The Amur falcon may reach sexual maturity in its first year (2).
As well as being one of the longest, the Amur falcon’s annual round-trip of 22,000 kilometres is also likely to be the most oceanic migration of any bird of prey, with over 3,000 kilometres of the outbound journey to Africa believed to take place over the Indian Ocean (6). The entire population of Amur falcons leaves the breeding area in Asia from late August to September, generally travelling in huge flocks, which may also include other small falcon species. The birds stop off in India and Bangladesh for several weeks to fatten up (2) (3) (6) (11). However, the exact migration path is not well understood, and the ocean journey is still speculation, the birds disappearing from India and reappearing in East Africa, and so presumed to fly over the sea (7). Interestingly, the return journey from Africa to Asia, which takes place between February and March, is even less well understood, and is thought to take place overland via the Arabian Peninsula (6) (11), with the birds arriving back in the breeding grounds in April and early May (2).
The Amur falcon still has a wide distribution and a large global population, which is believed to be stable (8). There are no specific threats reported for this species, which can still be seen in large flocks, sometimes numbering as many as 25,000 birds (7). However, the grassland areas the Amur falcon inhabits in its wintering quarters in southern Africa are under intense pressure from agriculture and commercial afforestation (9), which could bring the species under increasing pressure across its non-breeding range. The falcons also create noise and mess in urban areas, leading to the felling of roost trees, and suffer high mortality on roads when catching insects on the road (7).
A number of conservation measures are currently in place for the Amur falcon. As well as being listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in the Amur falcon should be carefully regulated (4), the species is on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range (12). The Amur falcon, along with other birds of prey, is also listed under Class B of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, meaning that, within its African range, it can only be legally killed or captured with special authorisation (13).
The congregation of thousands of Amur falcons at their winter roosting sites gives the perfect opportunity to census the species’ global population, allowing population numbers and trends to be quantified, and any potential conservation threats to be identified and addressed (2) (10). The Migrating Kestrel Project, co-ordinated by the Birds of Prey Working Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa, was initiated in 1994 for this purpose, and continues to date (10). This project performs counts at a large number of roosts in South Africa, with the highest total of Amur falcons so far counted being around 110,000 birds. Compared to the million or so birds potentially estimated by the current literature, this is relatively low, suggesting that there is a need to continue closely monitoring this attractive small falcon (7).
To find out more about the Migrating Kestrel Project see:
Birds of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa:
For more information on bird of prey conservation see:
The Peregrine Fund:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
Authenticated (14/09/09) by Anthony Van Zyl, Western Cape Raptor Research Programme, Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology.
- Afforestation: the establishment of forest by natural succession or by the planting of trees on land where they did not grow formerly.
- Corvid: of the family Corvidae, which includes crows, jays, magpies, nutcrackers and rooks.
- Incubate: to keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Incubation: the act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (February, 2009)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A & C Black Publishers, London.
CITES (February, 2009)
- Kemp, A. and Kemp, M. (2006) SASOL Birds of Prey of Africa and its Islands. Struik, Cape Town.
- Bildstein, K.L. (2006) Migrating Raptors of the World: Their Ecology and Conservation. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
- Van Zyl, A. (September, 2009) Pers. comm.
BirdLife International (February 2009)
Mendelsohn, J.M. (1997) Eastern redfooted kestrel. In: Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree, A.T., Parker, V. and Brown, C.J. (Eds.) The Atlas of Southern African Birds. Volume I: Non-passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg. Available at:
The Migrating Kestrel Project (February, 2009)
- Alerstam, T. (1993) Bird Migration. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (February, 2009)
African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (February, 2009)