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Sooty Falcon
Falco concolor

Status: Near Threatened

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: 

Falco concolor
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical/Indomalayan/Palearctic. Breeds discontinuously from southeastern LIBYA and EGYPT to Red Sea islands off SUDAN and ETHIOPIA, islands and coastal portions of SAUDI ARABIA and YEMEN, southern ISRAEL and southern JORDAN, islands in the southern Persian Gulf and disjunctly in southwestern PAKISTAN; winters mostly in MADAGASCAR and coastal MOZAMBIQUE and eastern SOUTH AFRICA, although a few remain in more northern areas to OMAN. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Based on an analysis of nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, Siebold et al. (1993) and Wink and Ristow (2000) found that this species forms a monophyletic clade with the Eleonora's Falcon (F. eleonorae) and Eurasian Hobby (F. subbuteo). These species and other "hobbies" belong to the subgenus Hypotriorchis and represent a clade that is paraphyletic to the peregrine complex (Seibold et al. 1993). The Australian Hobby (F. longipennis), African Hobby (F. cuvierii), and the Orange-breasted Falcon (F. deiroleucus) are also part of this assemblage and cluster at its base. This species and the Eleonora's Falcon share certain ecological and behavioral characters, e.g., preying on insects, wintering in Africa, and breeding colonially, which also implies that they are derived from a common ancestor (Seibold et al 1993, Wink and Seibold 1996).

Movements: Complete long distance, trans-equatorial migrant (Bildstein 2006). This species reaches its winter range in Madagascar and southern Africa in mid-November to early December, remaining until about mid-April (Mendelsohn 1997). The very low proportion of subadults at some breeding colonies, e.g., in Oman, suggests that young Sooty Falcons may summer on the African continent away from their breeding colonies (Michael McGrady in litt. to Buij 2011), as is the case with Eleonora's Falcons (Gschweng et al. 2008). Such birds may move into West Africa in response to good rains. more....

Habitat and Habits: This is a desert species during the breeding season, generally nesting and roosting on rocky outcrops on cliffs in rugged or mountainous desert areas and small, uninhabited desert islands, from sea level up to about 800 m (Jennings and Sadler 2006, Kavanagh and King 2008). In its wintering range in southern Africa and Madagascar, it favors tropical or subtropical habitats in the vicinity of water. It is often seen at the edge of forest and above the canopy (Langrand 1990). It spends most of its day inconspicuously roosting within the foliage of large trees. Wintering birds are often encountered in small groups, but this species is less gregarious than the Eleonora's Falcon. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on small birds, bats, and insects, hunting on the wing, mostly in the late afternoon or early evening, or even at night. Although birds are the main prey in the breeding range, flying insects form the bulk of the diet in the winter range in southern Africa and Madagascar (Rand 1936, Thorstrom et al. 2003), although it will feed on birds when invertebrate prey are scarce (Goodman et al. 1997). Moreau (1969) though that they feed on larger bird species in the wintering range than in the breeding range. Prey are captured and eaten on the wing, and it is regularly seen hawking dragonflies over Muscat and Ruwi urban areas on summer evenings (Eriksen et al. 2001). Several falcons may hunt cooperatively, pursuing individual migrating birds at the same time (Schjĝlberg 2006). more....

Breeding: Breeds in late July or August. Most pairs nests on small, uninhabited islands, although it may also breed on the ground in mangroves (Jennigs and Sadler 2006). The timing of nesting is relatively late, enabling the chicks to be provided with migrant songbird and wader prey, and fledging occurs in early October. Nests on ledges or in potholes on cliffs. Clutch size is usually 2-3 eggs. The incubation period is about 27-30 days, and the chicks fledge 32-38 days later. The female handles incubation chores, and the male provides food for her and the chicks. more....

Conservation: Overall, the population may be stable, but there are local threats, mostly loss of habitat, to several breeding sub-populations. In addition, there may be disproportionate mortality, as yet undocumented, on migration or in the wintering range (Kavanagh and King 2008). Most important, the size of the global population has been drastically overestimated by numerous authors and may be comprised of no more than 1,000 breeding pairs (Gaucher et al. 1995, Jennings and Sadler 2006, Kavanagh and King 2008). The species is considered to be Threatened or Endangered in the Middle East, where the entire global breeding population occurs. The Sooty Falcon was recently reclassified from "Least Concern" to Near Threatened by BirdLife International, but various recent authorities have recommended changing its classification to Endangered (Jennings and Sadler 2006). more....

Population Estimates: Kavanagh and King (2008) provided an enlightening history of population size estimates of this species, originating in part from misinterpretations and unjustified extrapolations from passing observations by Walter (1979) on the Sooty Falcon winter range in Madagascar. Virtually all authors have assumed that Sooty Falcons are more numerous than the similar Eleonora's Falcon, but this is apparently not the case. Estimates of the global population size of Sooty Falcons include 20,000 birds (Cade 1982), 50,000-200,000 (Brown et al. 1982), 40,000 (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, 2005), and 100,000 (BirdLife International 2004).
Although there is a recent estimate of about 10,000 individuals, based on estimates from the winter range in Madagascar, only about 1,000 pairs have been documented on the ground in the breeding range. A workshop on small birds of prey and owls in Arabia in 2005 examined the disparities in population estimates and revealed that the Arabian population, generally regarded as comprising half of the global population, is probably just less than 500 breeding pairs (Jennings and Sadler 2006). Thus, either the winter range estimates are inflated, or there are as yet undiscovered breeding sites, as suggested earlier by Aspinwall (1996). more....

Important References: 
Booth, B.D.. 1961. Breeding of the Sooty Falcon in the Libyan desert. Ibis
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Cade, T.J. 1982. Falcons of the world. Cornell University Press, Ithaca,
Clapham, C.S. 1964. The birds of the Dahlac Archipelago. Ibis
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Frumkin, R., and B. Pinshow. 1983. Notes on the breeding ecology and
  distribution of the Sooty Falcon Falco concolor in Israel. Ibis 125:251-259.
Gaucher, P., J.-M. Thiollay, and X. Eichaker. 1995. The Sooty Falcon Falco
on the Red Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia: distribution, numbers,
  and conservation. Ibis 137:29-34.
Kavanagh, B., and H. King. 2008. Observations from 1998-2006 on the
  breeding population of Sooty Falcons Falco concolor on the Hawar Islands,
  Kingdom of Bahrain. Sandgrouse 30:70-76.
Mendelsohn, J.M. 1997. Sooty Falcon. P. 255 in J.A. Harrison et al.
  (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines. BirdLife
  South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Moreau, R.E. 1969. The Sooty Falcon Falco concolor Temminck. Bulletin of
  the British Ornithologists' Club 89:62-67.
Orta, J. 1994. Sooty Falcon. P. 266 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J.
  Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World vultures
  to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Seibold, I., A.J. Helbig, and M. Wink. 1993. Molecular systematics of
  falcons (family Falconidae). Naturwissenschaften 80:87-90.
Walter, H. 1979. Eleonora's Falcon: adaptations to prey and habitat in a
  social raptor. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
Walter, H. 1979. The Sooty Falcon Falco concolor in Oman: results of a
  breeding survey. Journal of Oman Studies 5:9-59.

Sites of Interest:
Sooty Falcon photos.

Germi, Francesco
McGrady, Mike
Moldován, István
Sandor, Attila
Walter, Hartmut

Last modified: 9/18/2011

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Sooty Falcon Falco concolor. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 1 Jun. 2020

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