Fox kestrel (Falco alopex)

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Adult fox kestrel
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Fox kestrel fact file

Fox kestrel description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyFalconidae
GenusFalco (1)

Substantially larger than most other kestrel species, the fox kestrel possesses well developed, long, pointed wings and an elongated tail (2). The chestnut plumage contrasts with conspicuous broad black streaks on the back and wings, and a rufous coloured tail with faint black banding. The throat, flanks and undersides of the wings are unstreaked, with pale silvery-white bases, and the legs are long with short yellow toes (2) (4). The eyes of the fox kestrel are pale brown and surrounded by a ring of yellow skin (2) (5). In common with most kestrels, the two sexes are very similar, but juveniles can be distinguished by heavier streaking and broader black barring on the tail, blue-grey facial skin and yellow-green legs (2) (4).

French
Crécerelle renard.
Size
Head-body length: 35 - 39 cm (2)
Weight
250 – 300 g (2)
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Fox kestrel biology

Despite some uncertainty regarding the fox kestrel’s ability to hover, this species appears to use its well developed broad wings and tail to occasionally hover above the ground whilst foraging (2) (5). The fox kestrel will also alight upon an exposed perch, such as a dead tree, using its acute eyesight to spot prey across open grassland or savanna. Small mammals, lizards and amphibians are all caught in its large talons on the ground, while large insects may be caught acrobatically on the wing (2) (8). The fox kestrel will also forage near grass fires, searching for escaping animals that make easy targets (2).

The breeding season varies between localities, but egg laying peaks between March and May. Nests are constructed on rock ledges and in cavities, often close to other nests in loose colonies of 20 to 25 pairs. Two to three eggs are laid and incubated by the female (2).

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Fox kestrel range

Endemic to the Sahel ecoregion of Africa, the fox kestrel is distributed from Gambia and Guinea in West Africa, across the continent, to Eritrea and Ethiopia in East Africa (6). Populations in the extremities of the species’ range migrate southwards during the dry season, and northwards during the wet season to nest on arid rocky outcrops. Populations in intermediate areas may remain resident throughout the year, while some vagrants may travel further south into Kenya after the breeding season (7).

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Fox kestrel habitat

The fox kestrel is a resident of semi-desert and savanna habitats typical of the Sahel region of Africa, up to 2,200 metres above sea level (6) (8). In the southern extremities of the species’ range the fox kestrel may also be found in moister savannas and open grasslands (8). Nesting is restricted to rocky outcrops or rocky hills bordering arid savanna (2) (8).

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Fox kestrel status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Fox kestrel threats

Although widespread and abundant, specific threats to the fox kestrel are unclear. However, the fox kestrel's breeding range is restricted to rocky hills, and although this habitat is more resistant to degradation than others, subtle changes to this habitat could impact the population, especially if surrounding hunting habitats are degraded (2). Decreases in fox kestrel numbers have been observed outside of national parks in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali with declines attributed to human population growth, habitat degradation and ecosystem impoverishment (9). However, agricultural pesticides, which accumulate in many African birds of prey, do not appear to be impacting fox kestrel populations, as they are only used in a limited way throughout the species’ range (2).

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Fox kestrel conservation

Listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the fox kestrel population trend is considered stable (1).  However, the global population is relatively small, with an upper estimate of 10,000 individuals.  The fox kestrel has also been observed as uncommon throughout much of its range, with density related to availability of localised rocky hill nesting habitat (8). Therefore, continuous monitoring of breeding success and threats is required as a slight decline in population number may result in an upgrading to a Vulnerable status by the IUCN (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the fox kestrel, see:

  • Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, UK.
  • Kemp, A. and Kemp, M. (1998) Birds of prey of Africa and its islands. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
 For more information on falcon and kestrel conservation projects, see: 

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (01/03/10) by Dr Alan Kemp, retired Curator, Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, and Research Associate, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town.
http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/docs/alan.html
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Glossary

Amphibians
Cold-blooded vertebrates of the class Amphibia, such as frogs or salamanders, which characteristically hatch as aquatic larvae with gills. The larvae then transform into adults with air-breathing lungs.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Vagrant
Found occasionally outside normal range.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World - New World Vultures To Guineafowl. Vol. 2. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (January, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Kemp, A. and Kemp, M. (1998) Birds of prey of Africa and its islands. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  5. Londei, T. (2002) The fox kestrel (Falco alopex) hovers. Journal of Raptor Research, 36: 236-237. Available at:
    http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/jrr/v036n03/p00236-p00237.pdf
  6. BirdLife International (January, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3598&m=0
  7. Global Register of Migratory Species (January, 2010)
    http://www.groms.de/
  8. The Peregrine Fund Global Raptor Information Network (January, 2010)
    http://www.globalraptors.org/
  9. Thiollay, J. (2006) The decline of raptors in West Africa: long-term assessment and the role of protected areas. Ibis, 148: 240-254.
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Image credit

Adult fox kestrel  
Adult fox kestrel

© Nik Borrow

Nik Borrow
n.borrow@btinternet.com
http://web.mac.com/nikborrow

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