Red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus)
|Size||Length: 28 – 31 cm (2)|
Wingspan: 65 – 75 cm (2)
|Weight||130 – 197 g (2)|
The red-footed falcon is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
The red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus) is a small, slender bird of prey in which the male and female vary considerably in appearance (4). Males have mostly slate-grey plumage, which contrasts with its warm chestnut lower belly, undertail and thighs (2). Its legs are, unsurprisingly, red, as are the eye-rings and a patch at the base of its bill (2). The larger females have blue-grey upperparts and tail patterned with black bands, with rusty orange or yellowish plumage on the under parts. The pale head bears a rust-coloured crown, a blackish eye patch and slight moustache. Not so suited to its common name, the bare parts of the female red-footed falcon are orange (2). Its scientific species name, vespertinus, is Latin for ‘of the evening’ and probably refers to the time of the day when the red-footed falcon can be seen hunting (4).
The red-footed falcon breeds in eastern Europe and west, central and north-central Asia, from Estonia and Hungary to extreme north-western China. It spends winter in south-west Africa, from Angola, Namibia and north South Africa, through Botswana to Zimbabwe and Zambia (2) (5).
In their Eurasian breeding range, red-footed falcons inhabit open habitats with some tree cover. This includes steppe, wooded steppe, cultivation and pastures, normally in lowland, although up to 1,500 metres in Asia. In Africa, red-footed falcons can be found in grassland, savanna and scrubland (2).
The graceful red-footed falcon flies with occasional quick wing beats and longer periods of gliding while it continually adjusts its long wings and tail. It captures much of its food in flight, particularly crickets, locusts and grasshoppers (2), and the falcon’s flight can become erratic and jerky when in pursuit of a meal. It will often hover, kestrel-like, for short periods (4), as it searches for prey on the ground (2), and will also run along the ground after prey such as voles, mice, shrews, lizards and toads (2) (4). The red-footed falcon hunts most actively around dawn and dusk, when it can be seen flying low, particularly over rivers (2).
The red-footed falcon is a social bird and is rarely encountered singly (4). They roost in large colonies, sometimes consisting of thousands of birds (2), and the entire population migrates together between south-west Africa and their Eurasian breeding grounds. After spending November to February on their wintering grounds, the red-footed falcons travel vast distances and arrive at the breeding grounds from mid-April to mid-May (2). Here they nest in colonies of tens or thousands of pairs, occupying old nests of raptors and corvids (for example, rooks), cliff or tree holes, or nest on the ground protected by a shrub (2). Three to four eggs are normally laid, at intervals of two days, which are then incubated by both parents for 27 to 28 days. The chicks fledge 27 to 30 days after hatching and gain complete independence around one week later (2). September sees the falcons begin their great journey once again and large numbers can be seen over the coastal plains of Israel in early October (2) (4).
Evidence suggests that numbers of the red-footed falcon are declining in parts of its range (2) (5). This may be the result of a number of threats including the destruction of suitable nest sites and the widespread use of pesticides which affects the falcon’s food supply (5). A decline in rooks in some areas has resulted in a lack of old nests which the red-footed falcon can occupy, and illegal logging has meant the loss of important woodland sites (6).
While the red-footed falcon is not yet globally threatened (1), conservation action may be required to prevent it becoming so. A complex conservation program is underway in Hungary and western Romania, which aims to increase and maintain the breeding population of the red-footed falcon in the region. It is working to achieve this through increasing the number of potential nesting sites, imposing actions to conserve rookeries and increasing public awareness (6).
For further information on conservation of the red-footed falcon:
Conservation of Falco vespertinus in the Pannonian Region:
For more information on the red-footed falcon and other bird species:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- Incubate: to keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
IUCN Red List (December, 2007)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
CITES (December, 2007)
- Clark, W.S. (1999) A Field Guide to the Raptors of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
BirdLife International (December, 2007)
Conservation of Falco vespertinus in the Pannonian Region (December, 2007)