|Taita falcon, photographed at the World Center for Birds of Prey, Boise, Idaho, USA.|
Reichenow & Neumann, 1895
This small falcon is fairly distinctive, but may offer some confusion with a few other species. The rufous belly causes resemblance with African hobby, but important features to look out for are a white throat and the obvious rufous patches on the nape. Also the underwing coverts are uniform rufous whereas in African hobby has more streaking. The most obvious underwing feature though is the fact that the flight feathers are barred black and white whereas there is much more rufous in the flight feathers of African hobby. The robust, long-winged Taita falcons have a short tail. Their flight is fast and somewhat heavy looking, but they are adept at aerial hunting.
The wingspan of males is 202–208 millimetres (8.0–8.2 in), and that of females is 229–240 millimetres (9.0–9.4 in). Males weigh 212–233 grams (7.5–8.2 oz) and females 297–346 grams (10.5–12.2 oz).
This species spends much of its time perched inconspicuously, emerging to pursue small birds with fast, parrot-like wingbeats. Occasionally soars high. Prey is captured on the wing and carried back to the perch to be eaten. Breeds during April to September in East Africa and July to December in southern Africa. The nest is normally on bare rock, the clutch size is 2-4 eggs, incubation lasts 31–33 days and the chicks fledge after approximately 42 days.
Distribution and habitat
The Taita falcon is patchily distributed from eastern and southern Africa. Breeding has been recorded from southern Ethiopia, southeastern South Sudan, eastern Uganda, Kenya (may occur at low densities throughout the country), Tanzania (scattered records), eastern Zambia (a few sites), Malawi (two recent records), Zimbabwe (20–50 pairs), Mozambique (one record of unknown reliability), Botswana and northeastern South Africa (one site). It breeds in highlands and mountain regions with high cliffs and river gorges, mainly in areas with low rainfall. It is a rare and poorly known species, with probably less than 500 individuals globally. With fewer than 50 known nest sites throughout Africa and with previously documented eyries abandoned, the global population is likely in critical condition.
Threats to the species come from the use of organochlorine pesticide sprays in northern Zimbabwe which may have reduced numbers there, and pesticide-spraying (e.g. through operations to control red-billed quelea and locusts) may pose a threat in other regions. Tourist flights using helicopters and micro-light aircraft seem to have caused major disturbance to birds resident along the Victoria Falls gorges, where the remaining birds are threatened with flooding by a proposed dam. Reasons for its scarcity in East Africa possibly include competition for food and nest sites with the larger and more dominant peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and predation of young by the peregrine falcon, lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus) and owls.
In Southern Africa itself, there are a few regular breeding sites where the birds can regularly be found. Formerly there was a famous nest site in the Victoria Falls gorge and more recently there has been a well publicised pair near the Strydom Tunnel in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Falco fasciinucha". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- User, Super. "Welcome to BirdLife South Africa - Taita Falcon CRITICALLY ENDANGERED IN SOUTH AFRICA". www.birdlife.org.za. Retrieved 2016-04-29.
- Ferguson-Lees, James; Christie, David A. (2001). Raptors of the World. Illustrated by Kim Franklin, David Mead, and Philip Burton. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-12762-7
- A.C. Kemp (1991), Sasol Birds of Prey of Africa, New Holland Publishers Ltd
- Taita falcon - Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds.