[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Falco berigora | [authority] Vigors and Horsfield, 1827 | [UK] Brown Falcon | [FR] Faucon berigora | [DE] Habichtfalke | [ES] Halcon Berigora | [NL] Bruine 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.
This is the most common raptor in Australia after the Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides). It is a large falcon with unusually long, slaty legs that are useful to identify it at rest. It is highly variable in colour, and can hardly be confused with anything except the Black Falcon in its range, and only then in its melanistic form.
At close range the long slaty legs and slaty cere should distinguish even melanistic individuals from those of the Black Falcon, which has yellow legs and cere. It is broader-winged than most falcons, and has a characteristic black moustachial streak below the eye
Australasia : widespread. The Brown Falcon or Brown Hawk is a resident of Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea and Dampier Island.
This bird is found in practically all types of country in Australia, from the very dry interior to moist coastal areas. It is also found in New Guinea, where it is the commonest hawk in the mountains. It hunts over open country, but will perch in woodlands, even occasionally inside forests. It is quite common in Australia and, where it has not suffered persecution from man, is quite confiding and tame.
It breeds in the deserted or abandoned nests of other birds, and only rarely is said to make its own. It sometimes lays on top of termite mounds without any nest at all. When in a tree an open situation is preferred, and the nests used are those of crows or ravens. They may be at any height up to 120 feet above ground.
The breeding season is not as fixed as it is with many species, from June to November or even later. Most eggs are laid between September and November, but in Queensland the season is from December to March. It is thus able to take advantage of a variety of seasons.
Both sexes incubate, sit very closely, and are not easy to disturb from the nest. Only the male brings prey during the incubation and early fledging periods. After hatching the female remains near the nest, and feeds the young.
Insects and small mammals to the size of a rabbit are the mainstay of this bird’s diet, supplemented on occasions by helpless young birds, lizards and snakes. It will come to carrion and this makes it susceptible to accidental or deliberate poisoning. Small birds are only rarely taken, and even poultry occasionally when unguarded. Most of the prey, if not all, is taken on the ground, despite its potentially fast flight. It is a beneficial species as a rule, and does not deserve persecution.
copyright: Nick Talbot
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
It is mostly rather sluggish, and spends a lot of its time perched. It can fly swiftly when it chooses, and takes a wide range of prey, most of it on the ground. It will be attracted to grass fires in the hope of catching grasshoppers, but equally can be found in areas where ground rodents are abundant, and will occasionally take birds up to the size of ducks. It is aggressive towards other raptors, attacking birds as big as White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster). In many of its ways it is like a big kestrel, but it only hovers rarely, and is naturally a more rapacious and powerful bird altogether.
Although usually a solitary bird, it may at times be seen in flocks of up to 100 individuals, especially in winter when it undertakes local movements and may migrate across the Bass Strait. In north-west Australia it is common from March to May, which seems to indicate movement from somewhere else to add to the local population. In Queensland numbers are highest in June and July. These local movements may be connected with grasshopper or rodent plagues, as there is no real evidence of migration, and the species seems to divide into four geographic variants.