Red-headed Falcon

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Image:RedheadedFalcon.jpg

Common Name: Red-headed Falcon or Merlin
Scientific Name: Falco chicquera

Size: 11.8-14.2 inches (30-36 cm); Wingspan: 33.5 inches (85 cm)

Habitat: Asia; a widespread resident in India and Nepal.

It occupies semi-desert, palm savannas, areas with sparse vegetation and with some large trees, watercourses in desert, flood and coastal plains, and forest edges.

Status: Near Threatened. Global population: 10,000-30,000 adult individuals with a decreasing population trend. The population is suspected to be undergoing a moderately rapid population decline (approaching 30% over the last 19 years), owing to ongoing habitat degradation. Rapid urbanization and development may be the main cause of declines in parts of the range, for example around Bangalore city, where the population dwindled from five breeding pairs prior to the mid 1990s to only sporadic recent sightings, presumably due to the conversion of habitat within their territories into densely packed bustling residential/built-up areas. In Nepal, there has been a sharp reduction in abundance in the Kathmandu Valley, from being very common in the 19th century to absent over at least the last 25 years. The cause of this decline is uncertain but may relate to widespread and intensive pesticide use. At least historically, capture for the falconry trade may have posed an additional threat.

Diet: Mostly birds and bats in flight. It also consumes large insects taken on the ground. They often hunt in pairs. One of the falcons flies low above the ground and flushes up small birds, while the other follows the prey higher and catches it at the edge of the cover. They are more active at dawn and dusk.

Nesting: The sexes are similar except in size, males are smaller than females. It is a small, short-winged falcon with long tail. The crown, nape and hind neck are rich chestnut. Cheeks are pinkish-rufous to white. There is a black eyebrow and malar stripe. The bill is black, with yellow base and cere. The eyes are dark brown with yellow eye-ring. The upper parts are blue-gray, finely barred with dark gray to black. The flight feathers are black and the tail is gray with black bars, and a broad, black sub-terminal black band with a white tip. The under parts are two tones. The chin, throat and chest are pinkish-rufous or white. The rest of under parts, including wing coverts, belly, vent and thighs are white or pale gray, finely barred with black. The long, bare legs and talons are bright yellow. The Indian form of this species (Falco chicquera) has rufous malar stripes, and it is less heavily barred than African species (Falco ruficollis).

They nest in old stick nests that have been abandoned by other birds. The nest is generally at the top of an isolated tree, or in palm tree. They often reuse the same nest-site in the latter part of dry season. The female lays 3 to 4 eggs. The incubation period lasts about 32 to 35 days. The young leave the nest at about 5 to 6 weeks of age.

Cool Facts: The Red-headed and Red-necked falcons have had an unclear and troubled relationship in the ornithology world. The species was sometimes allied with the merlin or the African hobby, but others debated, believing that it might actually be distantly related to the peregrine falcon. Throughout it’s history in the birding world, the African and Indian forms had been considered subspecies. Birdlife International in 2014, declared them separate distinct species. The African species kept the common name, the Red-necked Falcon, and was given a new latin name Falco ruficollis (from it’s old subspecies name of F. c. ruficollis. The Indian species, while keeping it’s latin name, lost it’s common name and was renamed the Red-headed Falcon.


Found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume 5: Falcons, Hawks & Eagles

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