Red-necked falcon (Falco chicquera)

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Adult red-necked falcon with feathers ruffled
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Red-necked falcon fact file

Red-necked falcon description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyFalconidae
GenusFalco (1)

With a distinctive chestnut coloured head and neck, the red-necked falcon is a small, yet unmistakable bird of prey. A predominately blue-grey plumage, contrasts with black primary feathers, and a grey tail, with a white tip. The whitish underparts are covered in a scattering of black and rufous streaking, with black banding across the abdomen. The body of the red-necked falcon appears comparatively stout, with short, blunt-ended wings, and a long, rounded tail. Adult red-necked falcons are very similar in appearance, with the female being slightly larger than the male. However, juveniles have a darker brown plumage, and washed brown-rufous underparts (4).   

Three subspecies of the red-necked falcon are recognised by some authorities: Falco chicquera chicquera, F.c. ruficollis and F.c. horsbrughi (2). F. c. chicquera is comparatively larger and darker than the other subspecies, while F.c. horsbrughi is paler, with light banding (2) (4). There is some evidence from distribution and morphology to suggest that each subspecies could be treated as three distinct species (5).

Also known as
red-headed falcon, red-headed merlin, turumtee.
French
Faucon à cou roux, Faucon Chicquera.
Spanish
Alcotán Cuellirrojo, Alcotán Turumti, Halcón de Cabeza Roja.
Size
Head-body length: 30 – 36 cm (2)
Male weight: 139 – 178 g (2)
Female weight: 190 – 305 g (2)
Average wingspan: 69 cm (2)
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Red-necked falcon biology

A specialist in hunting other bird species, the red-necked falcon primarily preys on small birds, such as larks and sparrows, but will occasionally take larger prey, such as pigeons and waterbirds. Hunting from a sheltered perch at the edge of woodland, the red-necked falcon targets its prey using acute eyesight, before exhausting the target in an acrobatic aerial pursuit. In flight, the red-necked falcon uses rapid wing beats without undulations, soaring infrequently, and unlike other small, kestrel-like falcons, rarely hovers. The red-necked falcon often hunts in pairs, and can be observed forming an unlikely partnership with the gabar goshawk (Micronisus gabar), often in heavily wooded areas, with the falcons hunting in the open and goshawks in denser cover, and resulting quarry shared (4). Occasionally the red-necked falcon will pirate prey from other raptors or birds of prey (7).  

Red-necked falcon pairs are monogamous, and eggs are normally laid in the dry season (2) (8). Like other falco species, the old nests of other raptors or crows in thorny trees are reused (2). Between two and five eggs are incubated, by the female, for a period of 32 to 35 days, with offspring fledging 35 to 40 days later and becoming fully independent after a further two to three weeks (2) (9) (10). The incubation and nesting period of the red-necked falcon is around two weeks longer than that of similar falcons (10).  

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Red-necked falcon range

The red-necked falcon occurs in two distinct, isolated populations, one in south Asia, and the other throughout most of the arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The nominate subspecies, F. c. chicquera, ranges from Pakistan, east through India to Bangladesh and Nepal; F. c. ruficollis  ranges from Senegal and Gambia, east to Ethiopia and southern Somalia, and southwards towards the northern boundary of the Zambezi river; while F. c. horsbrughi is found south of the Zambezi river to northern South Africa (2). Most populations remain resident throughout the year, but some vagrants may travel beyond the normal range after the breeding season, with occasional visitors to Myanmar, Sierra Leone and Somalia. The red-necked falcon is believed to have formerly occurred in Iran, but may be locally extinct there (6).

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Red-necked falcon habitat

Found predominantly in arid, lightly-wooded, open savanna and grassland, the red-necked falcon is also found among larger trees along watercourses, floodplains and coastal plains. The red-necked falcon is particularly abundant in areas with large numbers of Borassus and Hyphaene palms, which are favoured for nesting, and as a result the species has colonised many palm plantations and cultivated areas (2).

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Red-necked falcon status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Red-necked falcon threats

Common and wide-ranging, with large areas of suitable habitat remaining, there does not appear to be any significant threats to the red-necked falcon. However, it is believed to be uncommon where palm trees are harvested or sparse (2). Furthermore, pesticides have been linked to cases of egg infertility, but the full effect of this needs to be examined (9).

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Red-necked falcon conservation

As the red-necked falcon has an extensive range, and it is not considered seriously threatened, there is no immediate need for conservation measures (1). Despite being observed as uncommon in parts its range, the red-necked falcon is found in a number of large protected areas, and the global population is perceived to be stable (2) (6)

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

For more information on the red-necked falcon, see:

  • Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, UK.
  • Kemp, AC. and Kemp, M.I. (1998) Birds of prey of Africa and its islands. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Finch-Davies, C.G. and Kemp, A.C. (1981). The birds of prey of southern Africa. Winchester Press, Johannesburg.

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 (20/04/10) 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

Incubation
The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Monogamous
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Nominate subspecies
The subspecies indicated by the repetition of the specific name. Thus, in this case the Falco chicquera chicquera is the nominate subspecies of Falco chicquera ruficollis.
Primary feathers
In birds, the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of the wing.
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.
Vagrant
Found occasionally outside the 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. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (January, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, UK.
  5. Wink, M. and Sauer-Gurth, H. (2000) Advances in the molecular systematics of African raptors. In: Chancellor, R.D. and Meyburg, B.U (Eds) Raptors at risk. WWGBP/Hancock House, Berlin/Blaine.
  6. BirdLife International (January, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/
  7. Clark, W.S. and Schmitt, N. J. (1993) Red-headed falcon pirates prey from Montagu’s harrier. Journal of field ornithology, 64: 244-245.
  8. Whistler, H. (2007) Popular handbook of Indian birds. Horney Press, India.
  9. Olwagen, C.D. and Olwagen, K. (1984) Propagation of captive red-necked falcons Falco chicquera. Koedoe, 27: 45-59.
  10. Osborne, T.O. (2008) Ecology of the red-necked falcon Falco chicquera in Zambia. Ibis, 123: 289-297.
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Image credit

Adult red-necked falcon with feathers ruffled  
Adult red-necked falcon with feathers ruffled

© Richard Du Toit / naturepl.com

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