Red-footed Falcon, Falco vespertinus

Red-footed Falcon

Red-footed Falcon, Kazakhstan, May 2009, © Jochen Fünfstück

Names

English: Red-footed Falcon
Scientific: Falco vespertinus
German: Rotfußfalke
Spanish: Cernícalo Patirrojo
French: Faucon kobez

Taxonomy and Subspecies

Sometimes considered to be conspecific with the Amur Falcon Falco amurensis but now normally treated as separate species. Amur Falcons and Red-footed Falcons form a superspecies [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Both are closely related to the Eurasian Hobby, Eleonoras Falcon and the Sooty Falcon Falco concolor [GRIN 2009].

No subspecies [GRIN 2009].

Size

Length: 29-31 cm
Wingspan: 66-78 cm
Weight: Males 115-190 g, Females 130-200 g

Maximum Age

12 years in the wild. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

Open habitat like steppes or forest-steppes but also in cultivated landscape. In Europa the species lives in lowlands and rarely breeds above 300 above sea level [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. A good supply of insects is crucial.

Distribution

Eastern European species. From Austria and Italy the species occurs eastwards over in a broad band to Siberia. In Europe it regularly occurs in Austria, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia. Small populations may also breed in the Baltic States.
On migration often further west with regular sightings in Germany. In some years it bred in Germany during a spring when many Red-footed Falcons visited Germany during migration.

Migration

Long-distance migrant to southern Africa. Autumn migration starts in August and most cross the area around the eastern Mediterranean during September and October [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
The Red-footed Falcons return to Europe during April and March. They use a more western route over Italy and the Balkan and are regularly seen west of their breeding range, for example in Germany. The number of sightings in countries like Germany varies from year to year. 2008 was a very good year for seeing Red-footed Falcons in Germany and many birders reported sightings of single or a group of birds.

Breeding and Reproduction

Often but not always breeds in colonies. Like all falcons, the Red-footed Falcon does not build a nest itself. It uses nests from other species like Magpies, Hooded Crows and especially from Rooks.
Breeding starts in may when 2 - 5 eggs are laid. Breeding takes about 4 weeks and the young stay in the nest for about another 4 weeks.
The young are independent after only two weeks [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Maybe this is because hunting insects is easier than hunting other prey and the young falcons can learn this quickly.

Food and hunting

Feeds mostly on large insects like bugs, locusts or dragonflies. During the breeding season the Red-footed falcon also hunts small mammals like the Common Vole when available.
In Hungary a study showed that Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis and Common Spadefoot Pelobates fuscus can be important, too [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Population

European population estimated at between 26,000 and 39,000 pairs [BirdLife International 2004]. The overall trend is negative in Europe. For example, [BirdLife International 2004] gives a population of 800 - 1,500 pairs for Hungary, but [Falco Project 2009] only gives 700 - 800 pairs for 2005 and write that the population shows a steady decline.
The largest population breeds in Russia with an estimated 20,000 - 30,000 pairs [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Ukraine has between 3,200 and 5,100 pairs and in Romania there are between 1,300 and 1,600 pairs [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Other countries only have small populations.

Threats

The decline of available prey (large insects) is probably the main reason for the decline in south-eastern Europa [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Intensification of agriculture and an increase of pesticide use has reduced insect populations and therefore leaves the falcons without enough food.
Illegal persecution is also a concern. For example, 52 Red-footed Falcons were found shot in Cyprus in 2007.
Another serious problem is the decline of the Rook Corvus frugilegus in countries like Hungary. Red-footed Falcons often nest in colonies of Rooks and those pairs have a higher breeding success than those who nest solitary. Persecution of Rooks has reduced the Hungarian population from over 250,000 to a maximum of 35,000 pairs [Falco Project 2009].
Other threats are electrocution and birds killed by cars along roads. Decline of prey species in the wintering grounds could also be a problem - more research is needed here.

Conservation

Extensive and organic farming without pesticides that supports healthy populations of large insects should be encouraged. Illegal shooting during migration must be stopped. Rooks must be protected and shooting of them must be banned. Research about the situation in wintering areas is necessary.
A LIFE project for the conservation of the Red-footed Falcon project is currently underway which aims to increase the number of nesting pairs, do more research on habitat use and migration, impose actions to conserve rookeries and increase public awareness about Red-footed Falcons and Rooks [Falco Project 2009].

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Near Threatened (NT)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Near Threatened

Interviews about the Red-footed Falcon

Interview with Péter Palatitz about the conservation of the Red-footed Falcon in Hungary and other countries

References

[BirdLife International 2004] BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Interntional. Cambridge, UK. (Red-footed Falcon species account available at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/BirdsInEuropeII/BiE2004Sp3603.pdf)

[Falco Project 2009] Conservation of the Red-footed Falcon in the Pannonian Region. Downloaded from http://www.falcoproject.hu/en/content/show on 20 Sep. 2009.

[GRIN 2009] Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 20 Sep. 2009

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Books

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser

Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Red-footed Falcon

GRIN species account for the Red-footed Falcon

Conservation of the Red-footed Falcon in the Pannonian Region