One of Australia’s most common and widespread raptors (4) (5), the brown falcon (Falco berigora) is a medium-sized bird of prey with a rather scruffy, pot-bellied appearance. The brown falcon has a relatively large head and rounded shoulders, and long legs with quite small feet. The wings of this species have blunt tips, and its tail is rounded (2) (6).
The brown falcon is highly variable in appearance, ranging in colour from very dark brown to a lighter reddish-brown (2) (4) (7). Three main colour morphs are often recognised, but there are many intermediates and much variation between individuals from different regions and habitats (2).
In general, the brown falcon is all brown above, with reddish edges to the feathers, and white or cream below, with dark streaking on the breast and brown marks on the flanks and thighs. The face is whitish, contrasting with dark ear-coverts and a dark ‘moustache’ mark below the eye, and there are reddish-brown bars on the tail. The undersides of the brown falcon’s wings are white with variable brown markings and dark wing tips (2).
‘Rufous’ brown falcons also occur, which have more sandy-brown to reddish-brown upperparts and a pale reddish-brown to buff face and underparts. This species can also be dark blackish-brown all over, with indistinct reddish-brown marks on the flanks and bars on the tail, and sometimes with traces of a head pattern (2). Up to eight subspecies of brown falcon have been described, but only five are now generally accepted (2) (8).
Some confusion surrounds the different varieties of the brown falcon, but studies now suggest that the variations may be related more to age and sex than to other factors. In general, adult male brown falcons appear to be lightest in colour, with reddish-brown colouration that resembles that of ‘rufous’ brown falcons, while immature females are much darker overall, resembling the darkest form of this species. Immature males and adult females are intermediate between these extremes, with immature males being distinguished from the adult females by their buff-tinged rather than white underparts (4).
The female brown falcon is slightly larger than the male (2) (7). Both sexes have brown eyes and a pale grey to whitish cere, eye rings and feet, sometimes with a degree of yellow (2) (4). These bare areas are brightest in adult males and dullest in immature females (4).
The calls of the brown falcon include loud, raucous crowing or cackling calls and screeches (2) (6), but it will also sometimes use quieter clucks and croaks (2).
- Also known as
- brown hawk, cackling hawk, orange-speckled hawk, striped brown hawk, striped hawk, western hawk, white-breasted hawk.
- Length: 41 - 51 cm (2)
- Wingspan: 88 - 115 cm (2)
- Male weight: 316 - 590 g (2)
- Female weight: 430 - 860 g (2)
Brown falcon biology
The brown falcon spends much of its time perched conspicuously on tree tops, fence posts, telegraph poles or other structures as it scans for prey (2) (6). The diet of this species includes a variety of small mammals, insects, reptiles and birds, and the brown falcon will also eat carrion (2) (5) (6) (7). Its mammalian prey mainly comprises mice, rats and rabbits, while its reptile prey includes lizards and snakes (2) (5). The brown falcon has also occasionally been recorded eating fish, frogs and crustaceans (2) (6).
Although it typically hunts from a perch, the brown falcon may also fly over the ground searching for prey, sometimes hovering, and may chase birds in flight or even run after insects and reptiles on the ground (2) (5) (6). It will also steal food from other raptors. Breeding pairs of brown falcons sometimes hunt cooperatively, and a number of individuals may gather at fires or follow livestock or farm machinery to take flushed prey (2) (6). Although the brown falcon is usually solitary, flocks of up to 100 have been recorded at such gatherings (2).
The breeding season of the brown falcon varies with location, but usually runs from around September to January in Tasmania, southern and central Australia, and from April to November in northern Australia and New Guinea (2). Breeding pairs often perform aerial displays at the start of the breeding season (2) (6) (10), and pair bonds may last for life (5). Pairs of brown falcons maintain a territory year-round, aggressively defending it against other individuals as well as other raptor species (10).
The brown falcon typically nests in the old stick nest of another raptor or a corvid, usually in a tree, or sometimes in a tree hollow, or on a cliff, building or termite mound (2) (5) (6) (7). Bits of bark or leafy twigs may sometimes be added to the nest (2). The female brown falcon usually lays 2 or 3 eggs, or occasionally up to 5 (2) (6), and the eggs are incubated for 31 to 36 days (2). The female performs most of the incubation and provides the majority of the care to the chicks, while the male brings most of the food to the nest (7) (10).
The juvenile brown falcons leave the nest after 36 to 42 days (2) (6), but remain dependent on the adults for as long as 6 to 10 more weeks (2) (6) (10). Female brown falcons first breed at about 2 years old, and males at about 3 years, and this species has been known to live to at least 18 years old in the wild (6).
Brown falcon range
The brown falcon is widespread across Australia and New Guinea (2) (6) (7) (9), and also occurs on many offshore islands, including Tasmania (2). This species does not generally migrate, but may move around locally in response to factors such as drought or food availability (2) (7).
Brown falcon habitat
Throughout its wide distribution, the brown falcon inhabits a broad range of habitats, occurring almost anywhere except dense forest. It commonly occurs in open grassland and farmland, often with scattered trees, as well as in woodland, forest edges, clearings, scrubland and desert (2) (7). In New Guinea, the brown falcon is frequently found in forested mountain valleys, at elevations of up to 3,000 metres (2).
Brown falcon status
The brown falcon is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
Brown falcon threats
The brown falcon is occasionally shot or trapped, and in some farmland areas it has declined locally due to poisoning from pesticides or the poisoning of its prey. However, the brown falcon is a widespread and opportunistic species, and currently remains one of Australia’s most common birds of prey (2).
Brown falcon conservation
The brown falcon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in this species or its parts should be carefully regulated (3). There are no other specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for this widespread raptor.
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- The flesh of a dead animal.
- In birds, an area of skin at the base of the upper mandible of the beak, surrounding the nostrils.
- Of the family Corvidae, which includes crows, jays, magpies, nutcrackers and rooks.
- Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- The circle of small feathers covering the ear opening of a bird. Also called auriculars.
- The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- One of two or more distinct types of a given species, often distinct colour forms, which occur in the same population at the same time (that is, are not geographical or seasonal variations).
- Bird of prey.
- 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.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (November, 2012)
Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A&C Black Publishers, London.
CITES (November, 2012)
McDonald, P.G. (2003) Variable plumage and bare part colouration in the brown falcon, Falco berigora: the influence of age and sex. Emu, 103: 21-28.
McDonald, P.G., Olsen, P.D. and Baker-Gabb, D.J. (2003) Territory fidelity, reproductive success and prey choice in the brown falcon, Falco berigora: a flexible bet-hedger? Australian Journal of Zoology, 51: 399-414.
Debus, S. (2012) Birds of Prey of Australia: A Field Guide. Second Edition. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Birds in Backyards - Brown falcon (November, 2012)
Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (November, 2012)
BirdLife International - Brown falcon (November, 2012)
McDonald, P.G. (2004) The breeding ecology and behaviour of a colour-marked population of brown falcons (Falco berigora). Emu, 104: 1-6.