New Zealand Falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae)

New Zealand Falcon

[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Falco novaeseelandiae | [authority] Gmelin, 1788 | [UK] New Zealand Falcon | [FR] Faucon de Nouvelle-Zelande | [DE] Maorifalke | [ES] Halcon Maori | [NL] Nieuwzeelandse Valk


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Falco novaeseelandiae AU New Zealand


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.

Physical charateristics

43 cm. Small, dark brown raptor. Head, nape, back, wings and tail dark dark brownish-black with all except head barred buff; thin rufous eyebrow; base of bill and chin white, throat and side of neck buff streaked dark brown; breast and belly dark brown; cere, legs and feet yellow; juvenile more dark with less distinctive markings. It is the only falcon found in New Zealand.

Listen to the sound of New Zealand Falcon

[audio: Zealand Falcon.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

recorded by Sandra Valderrama

wingspan min.: 66 cm wingspan max.: 91 cm
size min.: 41 cm size max.: 48 cm
incubation min.: 29 days incubation max.: 35 days
fledging min.: 32 days fledging max.: 35 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Australasia : New Zealand. Falco novaeseelandiae is endemic to New Zealand, and is separated into three forms – Bush, Southern and Eastern – which vary in plumage, size, range and habitat type. Bush Falcon (c.650 pairs) breeds in the North Island and north-western South Island. Southern Falcon (c.200 pairs) breeds in Fiordland, Stewart Island and its outliers, and the Auckland Islands. Eastern Falcon (c.3,150) is found in open terrain in the eastern South Island.


It occurs predominantly in bush and forest, and Eastern Falcon also breeds in rough farmland and dry tussockland. Adults are mainly sedentary but juveniles wander widely and are seen in farmland, orchards and urban areas. Established pairs remain on territory all year and display during late winter and early spring before nesting in September-December.


Food plays an important role in falcon courtship. The courtship starts in early spring, when the male chases the female and pretends to attack her. This is followed by aerial acrobatics. The bond is sealed when the male carries prey to the female. She chases him, and he offers her the food near their future nest site. Between September and December the female lays up to four reddish brown eggs. Falcons nest in a simple scraped hollow on a sheltered cliff edge, in an astelia epiphyte high in a tree, or on the ground under a log or bush. They fiercely defend the surrounding area, and may dive-bomb passers-by. Male and female both incubate the eggs, for 33-35 days in total. Juvenile falcons can fly at around 35 days and may be independent of their parents after three months.

Feeding habits

New Zealand falcons are not big birds, so their hunting feats are all the more impressive. At 500 grams and 45 centimetres, the female is larger than the male (300 grams). Females can kill young rabbits or hares weighing up to 3 kilograms. Falcons also take large birds such as white-faced herons, kereru (wood pigeons), ducks and pheasants. They catch big insects such as grasshoppers and beetles. Falcons? wings are angled back like an arrow. An attacking falcon dives steeply, giving what ornithologist Walter Buller described as a ?shrill cry of terror? when it seizes its victim. After it catches a bird, it takes it to a plucking post, and dislocates the bird?s neck using a special notched tooth that all falcons have. It then plucks the feathers and eats the entire bird.

Video New Zealand Falcon


copyright: Neil Robertson


This species has a moderately small population which may be experiencing declines. However, there are a number of moderately large subpopulations and hence it is classified as Near Threatened.
The range has been reduced owing to forest clearance (although it is still large, estimated at a minimum of 100,000 km2), and habitat loss is an ongoing, although much reduced, threat. Introduced brush-tailed possum Trichosurus vulpecula take eggs. Although protected since 1970, birds are occasionally shot by farmers, and pigeon and poultry keepers, possibly as many as 400 a year. Fox (1978) esimated the population at 3,700-4,400 breeding pairs, equating to 7,400-8,800 mature individuals. Given this esimate is now over 30 years old, and the population may have declined since, the population is best placed in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals
New Zealand Falcon status Near Threatened



Distribution map

New Zealand Falcon distribution range map

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