Lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus)

French: Faucon lanier
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyFalconidae
GenusFalco (1)
SizeLength: 35 - 50 cm (2)
Male weight: 500 - 600 g (2) (3)
Female weight: 700 - 900 g (2) (3)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

The lanner falcon is a handsome and powerful bird of prey, with grey-brown to slaty upperparts, a creamy-white throat and underparts, sometimes with dark spots or striping, and a characteristic reddish-brown crown on the head, which helps to distinguish it from the smaller peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus (3) (5) (6). The white cheeks contrast with dark eye stripes and a long, dark ‘moustache’ below the eye, and the eye ring is bright yellow (3) (5). The body is quite slender, with a long, barred tail and long, relatively blunt-ended wings that are dark at the tips (3). The female lanner falcon is usually larger, darker and more patterned than the male, while juveniles are much browner in colour, with heavily streaked underparts, pale blue-grey facial skin, and a duller crown (2) (3) (5). The lanner falcon shows considerable regional variation in size, colouration and degree of spotting and barring, with five subspecies currently recognised (2) (3) (7). The species is usually fairly silent, but at its breeding sites may give a variety of screams and cackling calls (3) (5) (6).

The lanner falcon has a wide distribution across Africa, the Middle East, and parts of central and eastern Mediterranean (3) (8). F. b. biarmicus occurs from Angola across southern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and southern Kenya, and southwards to South Africa. F. b. erlangeri occurs in northwest Africa, including Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya. F. b. abyssinicus is found in tropical sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal east to Ethiopia and Somalia, and south to Uganda, Kenya and northern Democratic Republic of the Congo. F. b. tanypterus occurs in northeast Africa, including Egypt, eastern Libya and northern Sudan, and into the Middle East, including Arabia, Israel and Iraq, and F. b. feldeggii is found in Italy, east to Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and south to Lebanon (2) (3).

Although usually a resident species, the lanner falcon may make local migrations in some parts of its range, particularly in West Africa, possibly in relation to rainfall (2) (3).

Usually inhabiting open country, the lanner falcon can be found in a wide range of habitats ranging from extreme desert to wet, forested mountains up to elevations of 5,000 metres (2) (3) (5). The species can be found in eucalyptus stands in southern Africa and even in urban areas, as long as there are open or lightly wooded areas nearby for hunting (2) (3), though it tends to avoid heavily forested or very wet areas (3).

The lanner falcon feeds mainly on small to medium-sized birds, ranging from larks up to the size of ducks and guineafowl, and sometimes takes domestic poultry and even other falcons (2) (3) (9). Hunting often takes place where prey congregates, such as at waterholes or colonial nesting sites, or at grass fires, where up to 20 lanner falcons may gather to feed (2) (3). Small mammals, such as rodents and bats, may also be taken, along with insects, reptiles, occasionally carrion, and even spiders and scorpions in deserts (2) (3) (10). The lanner falcon usually, though not always, hunts during the day, chasing or seizing prey in the air or sometimes from the ground, and occasionally stealing food from other birds of prey (2) (3) (5). Food is sometimes cached to be eaten later (2) (3), and lanner falcon pairs often hunt co-operatively, with one bird flushing out prey for the other to catch (3) (11) (12). Some lanner falcons have even learned to follow human hunters, taking prey that they flush (2) (3).

The breeding season of the lanner falcon varies with location (2) (3). Breeding pairs perform acrobatic aerial displays during courtship (3) (5), and build nests on cliffs or rocky outcrops, in quarries, on buildings or on the ground, or use the abandoned nests of other large birds, often in a tree or on top of an electricity pylon (2) (3) (12). The female lays between two and five eggs, which are incubated for 30 to 35 days. The young fledge at around 35 to 47 days but are dependent on the adult birds for up to a further three months (2) (3). Lanner falcons are thought to breed from about two to three years old (3).

The lanner falcon is widespread and generally common in Africa, even in heavily populated areas, and has a large global population which is thought to be increasing (3) (8). The species may even have benefitted in some areas from bush clearance, the planting of eucalyptus stands, and from increasing numbers of electricity pylons, which provide nesting sites (2) (3) (5). However, although it adapts well to populated areas (3), the lanner falcon is often poisoned or shot, particularly where people hunt larks for sport, and its eggs and chicks are commonly collected for use in falconry (3) (7). It is also threatened by habitat loss, which can reduce its hunting and breeding areas as well as its prey species, and by disturbance at its breeding sites, such as from rock-climbing and intensive tourism (7). The use of pesticides may reduce prey availability and the falcon’s breeding success (2) (7), while the use of organophosphates in the control of locusts and of red-billed quelea may cause poisoning in any birds of prey, such as the lanner falcon, which feed on them (13). The powerlines which often provide the lanner falcon with nesting sites can also carry the threat of electrocution (7) (13).

The lanner falcon is less common in eastern and western Africa, and may have suffered some local declines in South Africa (2) (3). However, it faces its biggest threats in Europe, where its range has contracted and the species has undergone dramatic declines since the 1950s (2) (3) (7). The European breeding population may now number as few as 480 pairs, and the species is classified as Vulnerable on the European IUCN Red List (8). Although a range of conservation measures for the lanner falcon have been adopted in Italy, which hosts a large proportion of the European population, it is thought that only a low proportion of breeding pairs may be found in protected areas here (14).

International trade in the lanner falcon should be carefully regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (4), and the species is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which aims to protect migratory species throughout their range (15). The threatened European population of Falco biarmicus feldeggii is also protected under a range of European legislation (7). Conservation priorities for this subspecies include reduction in pesticide use, legal protection of key sites, protecting breeding sites from disturbance, and appropriate habitat management, as well as further scientific research and the promotion of wardening schemes to prevent egg theft and illegal shooting of adult birds (7). Elsewhere, conservation measures include, for example, making powerlines “raptor-friendly”, to prevent electrocutions (13).

For more information on the conservation of birds of prey and how you can help see:

The Peregrine Fund:
http://www.peregrinefund.org/default.asp

For the International Action Plan for the lanner falcon see:

BirdLife International. (1999) International Species Action Plan: Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus. BirdLife International, UK. Available at:
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/wildbirds/action_plans/docs/falco_biarmicus.pdf

Authenticated (17/08/09) by André Botha, Manager of the Birds of Prey Working Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa.
http://www.ewt.org.za/home.aspx

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. 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.
  3. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A & C Black Publishers, London.
  4. CITES (January, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org
  5. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  6. Sinclair, I. and Davidson, I. (2006) Sasol Southern African Birds: A Photographic Guide. Struik, Cape Town.
  7. BirdLife International. (1999) International Species Action Plan: Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus. BirdLife International, UK. Available at:
    http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/wildbirds/action_plans/docs/falco_biarmicus.pdf
  8. BirdLife International (January, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3617&m=0
  9. Morimando, F., Pezzo, F. and Draghi, A. (1997) Food habits of the lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus feldeggii) in central Italy. Journal of Raptor Research, 31(1): 40 - 43.
  10. Souttou, K., Boukhemza, M., Belkacem, B., Doumandji, S., Denys, C. and Aouissi, K. (2005) The diet of lanner falcon Falco biarmicus (Aves, Falconidae) in Algeria. Alauda, 73(4): 357 - 360.
  11. Leonardi, G. (1999) Cooperative hunting of jackdaws by the lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus). Journal of Raptor Research, 33(2): 123 - 127.
  12. Leonardi, G. (2001) Falco biarmicus lanner falcon. BWP Update, 3(3): 157 - 174.
  13. Anderson, M.D. (2000) Raptor conservation in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Ostrich, 71: 25 - 32.
  14. Andreotti, A., Leonardi, G., Sarà, M., Brunelli, M., De Lisio, L., De Sanctis, A., Magrini, M., Nardi, R., Perna, P. and Sigismondi, A. (2008) Landscape-scale spatial distribution of the lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus feldeggii) breeding population in Italy. Ambio, 37(6): 440 - 444.
  15. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) (January, 2009)
    http://www.cms.int/