Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The sooty falcon is one of only six species of completely migratory birds of prey worldwide that breed in the northern hemisphere and overwinter in the southern hemisphere (11). Although sooty falcons begin to arrive at their breeding locations in the spring, around late April, they do not commence breeding until late summer (9). This delay occurs so that chick-rearing coincides with the autumn migration of small birds from cooler temperate regions in the North, which provide an abundance of food for the sooty falcon chicks (6) (12). A specialist in migratory bird hunting, the sooty falcon is generally most active at dusk and dawn, when solitary individuals can be seen perched on rocks or vegetation, scanning the sky for passing migrant birds. When a bird flies overhead, the sooty falcon rapidly takes to the air, accelerating above its prey before making a low dive and seizing it in its talons (12). Species taken include the hoopoe (Upupa epops), the European bee eater (Merops apiaster) and a variety of warblers (2) (7). During the breeding season, sooty falcons form breeding pairs which either nest alone or in loose colonies of up to 100 pairs (12). The female lays up to four eggs in a scraped out hollow in the ground or amongst rocks, which in the summer heat may be exposed to temperatures of around 50 degrees Celsius. After around a month, despite the extreme conditions, the majority of sooty falcon eggs hatch successfully (6) (7). The breeding season ends in late October, and the adults and juveniles begin the long journey to the wintering grounds in Madagascar and southern Africa (7) (9). Here, the sooty falcon mainly subsists on large insects, but also bats and small birds (4) (5). Until recently, the route taken by the sooty falcon on its migratory journey was unclear, but in 2008, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) successfully tracked a single sooty falcon from its nest on an island in the Sila Peninsula, Abu Dhabi to Madagascar. Using satellite tracking, the study revealed that the bird flew through seven countries, covering an incredible 6,700 kilometres (9) (13).
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Description

The sooty falcon is an attractive, medium-sized bird of prey with long, slender wings and a long tail (4). Although the adult plumage is mainly uniform grey, in the male it is pale with a bluish tinge, while in the female it is a darker, sooty shade. Both the flight-feathers and the area below the eyes are significantly darker than the rest of the body, and some individuals possess a small pale patch on the throat (2). In contrast to the dark plumage, the bare areas on the legs, around the base of the bill and the rim around the eyes are bright yellow (5). The juvenile's plumage differs quite significantly from that of the adult's. The head and nape are light brownish, the upperparts are brownish-grey edged with yellowish-white feathers, while the underparts are brown and heavily streaked with brownish-grey (2). A dark stripe extends from the base of the bill, and the throat and lower cheeks are cream coloured (2) (5). By its first summer, the juvenile undergoes a considerable change in colouration becoming a much darker, uniform grey than the adult, with conspicuous dark barring on the undersides of the wings and tail (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

Falco concolor breeds discontinuously and highly locally from Libya, eastwards through Egypt to the Red Sea islands off Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia, islands and coasts of north-west and south-west Saudi Arabia and north-west Yemen, southern Israel, south Jordan and Bahrain, as well as islands in the Persian Gulf from Qatar to Oman, the United Arab Emirates and south-west Pakistan (Aspinall 1994); a few inland breeding records from Saudi Arabia show that its range extends to the interior of the region (Gaucher et al. 1988). Most of the population winters in Madagascar, but a small but unknown proportion winters in coastal Mozambique and eastern South Africa (south to southern Natal), and there is also limited over-wintering in the southern part of the breeding range. Estimating the total population has proved notoriously difficult, and the population may have been overestimated in the past. However, there are now thought to be no more than a few thousand wintering in Madagascar and a recent review of all Arabian census data, (which is reportedly surprisingly comprehensive for this species), and found that the total Arabian population is probably just below 500 breeding pairs (Jennings and Sadler 2006, F. Hawkins in litt. 2007). Given that the Arabian population is generally regarded as the largest within its range (perhaps half of the world population), the estimate from Madagascar may indeed prove to be accurate (Jennings and Sadler 2006). Anecdotal evidence from Madagascar indicates a decline, and this is mirrored by data from breeding colonies in the Middle East (Kavanagh and King 2003, F. Hawkins in litt. 2007, M. McGrady in litt. 2007); each of the latter when surveyed has shown a decline relative to previous survey results (McGrady and Nicoll 2008, Shah et al. 2008). Current estimates of the total populations range from 1,000-40,000 pairs, roughly equivalent to 2,000-80,000 mature individuals and 3,000-120,000 individuals in total (Nicoll et al. 2008). Clearly this estimate needs to be refined.

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Range

Rocky areas of ne Africa; winters to s Africa and Madagascar.

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Range

The sooty falcon is a migratory species which breeds in scattered, highly localised colonies in north-east Africa, the Middle East and islands off the coast of south-west Pakistan (4) (6). The greatest numbers of sooty falcon are found around the Arabian Peninsula, principally on the coastal islands of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (7) (8) (9). After a lengthy migration, the majority of the population overwinters in Madagascar, although a small proportion migrates to coastal Mozambique and eastern parts of South Africa (4).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It breeds colonially in hot, arid environments; on cliffs, small rocky islands and rugged desert mountains where its breeding is timed to coincide with the autumn migration of small birds on which it feeds. Its nest is a shallow depression dug into the ground (Gaucher et al. 1988). It is a migratory species, with birds arriving in their wintering grounds in Madagascar and south-east Africa from late October, and returning to breeding sites in April (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Migrants generally travel singly, or in pairs or small flocks (Brown et al. 1982, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In the non-breeding season it forages for large insects over grassland and open country with trees.


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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During the summer breeding season, the sooty falcon occupies cliffs, small rocky islands and desert mountains, where the climate is extremely hot and arid (4). At its wintering grounds, however, this species can be found in wooded coastal areas, open grasslands near water sources such as lakes, rivers and paddyfields, and also in towns (2) (10).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Falco concolor

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Abdulla Al Khuzai, S., Al-Jbour, S., Baha El Din, S., Coles, T., Gschweng, M., Hawkins, F., Jennings, M., Mann, C., McGrady, M. & Shobrak, M.

Justification
This species has been classified as Near Threatened because it is suspected to have a moderately small, declining population. Detailed surveys and robust monitoring are much desired, and would lead to a clarification of its status.


History
  • 2012
    Near Threatened
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Status in Egypt

Resident breeder.

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Status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
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Population

Population
It is very difficult to accurately estimate the population size, but breeding surveys and evidence from the non-breeding grounds (F. Hawkins in litt. 2007) suggest there may only be a few thousand; this is placed into the banded range 10,000-19,999 mature individuals pending new information. This equates to 15,000-29,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 15,000-30,000 individuals.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Most of its breeding colonies are inaccessible or in protected areas so it would appear to be declining due to pressures in wintering grounds or on migration. Still, human disturbance may be a factor in some areas, including Bahrain's Hawar Islands (Kavanagh and King 2008, McGrady and Nicoll 2008). Increased pesticide use has been suggested as a causal factor, but egg analysis indicates that it is at very low concentrations in these birds.

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Due to the sooty falcon's scattered distribution and often inaccessible breeding sites, it has proven difficult to accurately assess its population (4). While previous global population estimates have given figures of around 40,000 breeding pairs, a review of Arabian census data in 2006 indicated that the population may, in fact, be as low as 1,000 pairs and in decline (4) (8). In response to this discovery, in 2008 the IUCN uplisted the sooty falcon's threat status from Least Concern to Near Threatened (1) (4). The reasons for the sooty falcon's global decline are currently unclear. Since many of the sooty falcon's breeding grounds are in protected areas or are inaccessible, it has been proposed that pressures encountered at this species' wintering grounds or during its migration may be responsible (4). In the Abu Dhabi Emirate, the only United Arab Emirate where breeding pairs of sooty falcon are found, the situation is critical (9) (13). A survey conducted by the EAD in 2007 indicated that the sooty falcon has disappeared from many of its former breeding sites, and that currently only six breeding pairs are known to remain. The decline has been attributed to increased disturbance from urban development and the continuous presence of humans, especially during the nesting season (9).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
A two-year pilot survey was conducted on the offshore islands of northern Oman during 2007-2008, including the marking of birds with PIT rings and gathering of blood samples and unhatched eggs (McGrady et al. 2008, 2009).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor a number of breeding colonies annually to assess trends. Research the ecology of non-breeding and migrating birds to assess potential threatening processes. Oppose developments which would encroach on breeding colonies. Restrict access to important breeding colonies. Conduct surveys, to locate further breeding colonies and determine the proportion of birds that winter outside Madagascar. Establish annual monitoring at the important sites on the Daymaniyat and Fahal Islands, Oman. Survey coastal areas near Muscat, where baseline data exist from 1978, to better quantify population declines. Train local people in survey techniques (McGrady and Nicoll 2008).

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Conservation

In 2008, a joint initiative by the governments of the United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom led to the signing of the “African-Eurasian Memorandum of Understanding on Birds of Prey”. This agreement will initiate the provision of concerted conservation measures for over 70 species of migratory birds of prey (14). Having proved instrumental in forming the agreement, the EAD is now devoting significant efforts towards conserving Abu Dhabi's imperilled sooty falcon population (13). Current plans are to track the migrations of more sooty falcons in the 2009 breeding season and to possibly collaborate with researchers in Oman to initiate a comprehensive migration study (9). Along with the studies of migration, there is also an urgent need to expand the formal protection of the sooty falcon's breeding sites throughout its range, reducing, wherever possible, human disturbance and development. In addition, further research into the reasons for this species' global decline must be conducted, especially in its wintering grounds, so that targeted conservation plans can be developed to prevent this extraordinary bird of prey from disappearing forever (13).
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Wikipedia

Sooty falcon

The sooty falcon (Falco concolor) is a medium-sized falcon breeding from northeastern Africa to the southern Persian Gulf region. It belongs to the hobby group, a rather close-knit number of similar falcons often considered a subgenus Hypotriorchis. Eleonora's falcon is sometimes considered its closest relative, but while they certainly belong to the same lineage, they do not seem to be close sister species.[2]

This is an elegant bird of prey, 32–37 cm long with a 78–90 cm wingspan. It is shaped like a large Hobby or a small Eleonora's falcon, with its long pointed wings, long tail and slim body. The adults are blue-grey, and lack the black underwing coverts of the Eleonora's falcon. The young bird is like a large juvenile Hobby, or small juvenile Eleanora's falcon. Its dark trailing edge to the wings and tail distinguish it from the former species, and it lacks the underwing contrast caused by the dark coverts of the larger falcon.

This species breeds on islands and coastal or desert cliffs from Libya to Pakistan). It is a long-distance migrant, wintering in east Africa and south to Madagascar. It is a rare vagrant north of its breeding range.

The sooty falcon eats mainly birds, but it will take large insects, such as dragonflies, which are transferred from talons to beak and eaten in flight. It nests on a ledge or on rocks, laying up to four eggs.

It was formerly classified as a species of least concern by the IUCN.[3] But new research has shown it to be rarer than it was believed. Consequently, it was uplisted to near-threatened status in 2008.[4]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2013). "Falco concolor". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Helbig et al. (1994), Wink et al. (1998)
  3. ^ BLI (2004)
  4. ^ BLI (2008)

References[edit]

  • BirdLife International (BLI) (2008): [2008 IUCN Redlist status changes]. Retrieved 2008-MAY-23.
  • Helbig, A.J.; Seibold, I.; Bednarek, W.; Brüning, H.; Gaucher, P.; Ristow, D.; Scharlau, W.; Schmidl, D. & Wink, Michael (1994): Phylogenetic relationships among falcon species (genus Falco) according to DNA sequence variation of the cytochrome b gene. In: Meyburg, B.-U. & Chancellor, R.D. (eds.): Raptor conservation today: 593-599. PDF fulltext
  • Wink, Michael; Seibold, I.; Lotfikhah, F. & Bednarek, W. (1998): Molecular systematics of holarctic raptors (Order Falconiformes). In: Chancellor, R.D., Meyburg, B.-U. & Ferrero, J.J. (eds.): Holarctic Birds of Prey: 29-48. Adenex & WWGBP. PDF fulltext
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