[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Falco fasciinucha | [authority] Reichenow and Neumann, 1895 | [UK] Taita Falcon | [FR] Faucon taita | [DE] Taitafalke | [ES] Halcon taita | [NL] Taita-valk
Members of the genus falco are mostly medium-sized falcons, but vary from the large peregrine falcon to the small American kestrel. The wings are long and pointed and used almost continuously during flight. The bill is short, powerful, and with a distinct ‘tooth’ on each side. Most falcons of this group have a black teardrop-shaped ‘mustache’ mark on each side of the head. Falcons are fastflying birds of open country and are famous for attaining high speeds as they dive from high altitudes to knock birds out of the air.
The head is mostly pale chestnut, with the crown, moustachial streak, a line behind eye, and the sides of the nape black. The rest of its upper parts, including the wings, are dark grey, becoming paler on the rump and upper tail coverts, and on the tail, which has darker bars. Below, the chin and throat are light buff, while the rest of the under parts are tawny with narrow black stripes, more chestnut on the thighs. The eyes are dark brown, the cere, legs and feet yellow. Immatures differ in that the shafts of the feathers of its chest and abdomen are blackish brown, and the axillaries and under-wing coverts are heavily barred with blackish brown. The rump is darker than that of the adult, not grey. The wing quills and scapulars are tipped with pale buff.
Africa : East, Southeast. It is recorded from southern Ethiopia, south-east Sudan, eastern Uganda, Kenya (may occur at low densities throughout the country)6, Tanzania (scattered records), eastern Zambia (a few sites), Malawi (two recent records), Zimbabwe (20-50 pairs), Mozambique (one record of unknown reliability), Botswana and north-eastern South Africa (one site).
Gorges and escarpments (up to 3,800 m), using associated cliffs for nesting and roosting, often overlooking river valleys. It is largely sedentary and does not wander far from favoured sites. However, a review of sightings in Kenya confirms that it occurs in a variety of habitats. It is closely associated with cliffs but does not have an absolute fidelity to a ‘home cliff’ and is sometimes sighted away from cliff environments.
The courtship display is not spectacular, although the pair do indulge in paired flights, accompanied by some screaming. It breeds on deep, inaccessible rock ledges, apparently without any nest material. Usually three eggs are laid, and the young when first hatched are covered in greyish white down.Incubation lasts for a month and the fledging period is about 6 weeks. The young remain in the vicinity of the nest for at least ten days after they fly. Both parents remain near the nest, but the share of the sexes in incubation and tending the young is unknown. The breeding season, in Rhodesia, extends for at least four months, eggs being laid in early October and the young leaving the nest about Christmas.
The Taita Falcon subsists on a diet composed entirely of small birds, caught in flight.
copyright: Christian Boix Hinzen
This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is thought to have a very small population. If surveys suggest that the total population is fewer than 1,000 mature individuals, or that the population is in decline, the species may qualify for a higher threat category.
The spraying of organochlorine pesticides in northern Zimbabwe may have reduced numbers there, and pesticide-spraying (e.g. through operations to control Quelea and locusts) may pose a significant threat in other areas, including a recorded case in Uganda. Helicopters and micro-light aircraft appear to have caused considerable disturbance to birds resident along the Victoria Falls gorges of the Zambezi, and the few birds that remain are threatened with flooding by a proposed dam.
It is closely associated with cliffs but does not have an absolute fidelity to a ‘home cliff’ and is sometimes sighted away from cliff environments. A portion of the population is therefore prone to wander away from typical habitat. These findings from East Africa are at odds with studies from southern Africa where the species does not tend to wander into flat areas devoid of cliffs.