Falcons, hobbies and kestrels in East Africa
Falcons – Order Falconiformes
Falcons – Family Falconidae
Falcons – Subfamily Falconinae
Falcons are small to medium seized birds of prey in their own order, which means they are not related to other birds of prey. They lack the ridge above the eye called supraorbital or brow ridge (Torus supraorbitalis) which is present in most birds of prey (Accipitridae). Some have an extremely fast flight like the Peregrine Falcon. Some also hoover, some feed on insects while others hunt for birds, small reptiles, insects and rodents. In some species females are hard to identify. Females are often much larger than males. Females are much larger than males. The name “Tercel” for males derives from one third. Some species are residents others migrate long distances like the Amur Falcon.
Some small falcons with long, narrow wings are called “hobbies” and some which hover while hunting are called “kestrels”. Most falcons prefer open lightly wooded habitat even very dry areas. Some falcons prefer habitats with Palm trees or even more specialized Borassus Palms.
Tapered wings allow them to fly at high speed and dive extremely fast to catch prey in flight– the fastest among them is the Peregrine Falcon (320 km/h).
Migrants which don’t breed in Africa can sometimes be found in large numbers. Several species are sadly in the status vulnerable or endangered. Loss of habitat and hunting reduces their numbers. Some suffer from the effect of pesticides since they feed on insects.
Experience with us these beautiful swift hunters.
Click on photos for larger view. Names of photographers are indicated on the species. Those without name are from Elvira Wolfer
Kestrels are among those hoovering to spot prey, confuse it and then hit fast.
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) in East Africa several subspecies are found, the subspecies rufescens breeds in and near the Rift Valley while tinnunculus is a migrant. Rufescens is darker. The difference shows in males, hardly in females.
Common Kestrel (Falco t. tinnunculus) is a widespread and common paleartic migrant from October to March. The preferred habitat is open bushland even semi arid regions. Male on the left, female on the right. Photos Lorenzo Barelli and Elvira Wolfer
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus rufescens) is a resident and breeds in and around the Great Rift Valley at rocky hills or cliffs. Photo by Jacques Pitteloud in Naivasha
Greater Kestrel (Falco rupicoloides arthuri) is found in Kenya and Northern Tanzania in arid savanna and semi-deserts.
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) winters in Africa South of the Sahara. They breed in the mediterrean region and in China. Sometimes you come across a large number of these insectivorous birds. Left male, right female
Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex) is uncommon in dry savanna near rocky hills from West Africa to Northern Kenya. A rare sighting by Lorenzo Barelli was in Nakuru in February 2022.
Grey Kestrel (Falco ardosiaceus) occurs in wooded areas from West to East Africa (in Kenya in Western region) South to Angola. There are some regions where they are easily found.
Dickinson’s Kestrel (Falco dickinsoni) is uncommon in more Southern Tanzania and very few sightings in Kenya. They prefer savanna with Palm trees. Photo by Per Holmen
(Western) Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) breeds in central Eurasia and winters South of the Sahara in grassland and savanna. It is a very rare bird in East Africa. Status: vulnerable. Photo by Jacques Pitteloud
Amur (Eastern Red-footed) Falcon (Falco amurensis) breeds in the steppes of NE Asia and winters in Southern Africa. On the way they pass East Africa and if you are lucky you find a good number of them. Photos by Per Holmen male left and Lorenzo Barelli female right
Red-necked Falcon (Falco chicquera ruficollis) occurs from Senegambia to the horn of Africa and South to Mozambique. They are found in savanna with Borassus Palms and often perch on top of the tree. Photo by Per Holmen
Sooty Falcon (Falco concolor) breeds at rocky places in NE Africa, winters in Southern Africa. They are uncommon passants in East Africa. Status: vulnerable. Photo by Per Holmen
Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonora) breeds on island on Mediterranean islands and winters in Madagascar. They are more frequently found along the Eastern coast of Africa than inland. There is a pale (photo) and a dark morph. Flight photo from Lorenzo Barelli, immature from Elvira Wolfer at Oldonyo Sabuk in May 2022
Taita Falcon (Falco fasciinucha) can be found at cliffs and in gorges from at higher altitude from Ethiopia to Mozambique. Status: vulnerable. Photo Lorenzo Barelli
Lanner Falcon (Falco b. biarmicus) this subspecies is found in Kenya, DRC and South Africa. It is one of the common falcons to encounter in various habitats. In Uganda and Nothern Kenya the subspecies abyssinicus can be spotted.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus minor) occurs on different continents in various subspecies. In Africa this subspecies is found. It is an uncommon migrant and resident. Photo Lorenzo Barelli
Saker Falcon (Falco c. cherrug) breeds from central Europe to Asia and winters in NE Africa in arid savanna and semi deserts. Status: endangered
Eurasian Hobby (Falco s. subbuteo) is a fairly common palearctic migrant from October to May to many countries in Africa. Photo Per Holmen
African Hobby (Falco cuvierii) is an uncommon resident and migrant in savanna South of the Sahara.
African Pygmy Falcon (Polihierax semitorquatus) is distributed in East and SW Africa. They breed in nest of social and buffalo weavers hence their distribution area overlaps. Females have a brown back. Photo left by Elvira Wolfer, right by Lorenzo Barelli