Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus)

Red-footed Falcon

[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Falco vespertinus | [authority] Linnaeus, 1766 | [UK] Red-footed Falcon | [FR] Faucon kobez | [DE] Rotfuss-Falke | [ES] Cernicalo de Patas Rojas | [NL] Roodpootvalk


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Falco vespertinus EU c


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

It is a medium-small, long-winged species. The adult male is all blue-grey, except for his red undertail and legs. The female has a grey back and wings, orange head and underparts, and a white face with black eye stripe and moustaches. Young birds are brown above and buff below with dark streaks, and a face pattern like the female. Red-footed Falcons are 28-34 cm in length with a wingspan of 65-75 cm.

Listen to the sound of Red-footed Falcon

[audio: Falcon.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

recorded by Zdenek Vermouzek

wingspan min.: 65 cm wingspan max.: 76 cm
size min.: 28 cm size max.: 34 cm
incubation min.: 27 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 27 days fledging max.: 30 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 5  


Eurasia : Central. E Europe, from Estonia and Hungary, E through NC Asia to extreme NW China and upper R Lena. Winters mainly in SW Africa, from Angola, Namibia and N South Africa through Botswana to Zimbabwe and Zambia


Frequents all kinds of open terrain, fringed or interspersed with stands of trees and carrying dense prey populations, especially of insects. These include steppe and wooded steppe, gallery forest along river banks traversing meadows, fens or bogs, stripped peatlands, drained and irrigated fields, large forest clearings or burnt patches, marshes, parks, orchards, avenues, groves (even within towns), and foothills of mountains. In Europe, not commonly above 300 m but in Asia up to 1100 m, and exceptionally to 1500 m. Avoidance of nest-building, and colonial tendencies bias habitat choice towards areas where earlier-breeding larger birds (e.g. Corvidae) seasonally vacate suitable stick nests, preferably in crowns of well-grown trees which are not isolated, and may be of almost any species, either broad-leaved or coniferous. Overhead wires, posts, and other artefacts used freely in hunting. Thus in breeding range, habitat limitations largely complementary to those of Lesser Kestrel, but in African winter quarters both species often overlap and mingle in pursuing the same swarms of insects on savanna and farmland.


On arrival at the breeding grounds in late April there is a brief display by the male before moving immediately to the business in hand. Egg-laying follows very shortly afterwards (within 3 weeks of arrival) and the birds then incubate the eggs in large colonies of abandoned (or taken-over) rooks’ nests or in looser groupings in old crows’ or magpies’ nests.
The first clutch of three to five eggs is laid and is incubated by both birds for 21-27 days commencing with the second egg. The young hatch at 1 or 2 day intervals, fledging 26-27 days later.
Dispersal from the breeding colonies commences around the third week in August and is all but complete by the end of the same Month. Migration commences in mid-September.

Feeding habits

Feeds mostly on insects, but also takes small vertebrates, including amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Foraging birds frequently hover, searching for insects which are captured mostly on the wing. Most aerial hunting occurs during the middle of the day, but in the morning and late afternoon, birds perch on dead trees or utlity lines. In the winter range in southern Africa, this species often hunts in flocks, which may also include numbers of Lesser Kestrels and Amur Falcons . Attracted to termite emergences, locust swarms, and other temporary food sources

Video Red-footed Falcon


copyright: youtube


This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is experiencing a moderately rapid population decline, owing to habitat loss and degradation. This species would qualify for uplisting to a higher threat category if evidence suggests a rapid population decline.
Falco vespertinus breeds in eastern Europe and west, central and north-central Asia, with its main range from Belarus south to Hungary, northern Serbia and Montenegro, Romania, Moldova and east Bulgaria, eastward through Ukraine and northwest and south Russia and north Kazakhstan to extreme northwest China and the upper Lena river (Russia). It winters in southern Africa, from South Africa northwards to southern Kenya. It has a large global population estimated to be 300,000-800,000 individuals, but recent evidence suggests that it is undergoing large declines in parts of its range. The European population of 26,000-39,000 pairs (forming 25-49% of the global population) suffered a large decline during 1970-1990, and has continued to decline during 1990-2000, particularly in the key populations in Russia and Ukraine, with overall declines exceeding 30% in ten years (three generations). Declines have also been reported from eastern Siberia, where the species may have disappeared as a breeder from the Baikal region. In Hungary estimated populations have declined from 2,000-2,500 pairs in the late 1980s to 800-900 pairs based on surveys in 2003 and 2004, and in Bulgaria very few active colonies remain. However, populations in central Asia appear to be stable, with the species reported to be common in suitable habitats (especially in forest-steppe zone with Rook Corvus frugilegus colonies) in Kazakhstan, and no evidence of any population declines there. Populations in western Europe are also stable or undergoing increases. The species breeds in open lowlands with trees and plenty of insects, on which it feeds, including steppe and forest-steppe, open woodland, cultivation and pastureland with tall hedgerows or fringing trees, agricultural areas with shelterbelts and, in the northeast, boggy areas and taiga edge. It is social, breeding in the old nest of another bird (most commonly C. frugilegus), but can be solitary. It is found from sea-level to c.300 m in the west, but to 1,500 m in Asia. Threats include destruction of suitable nest sites and, more significantly, widespread use of pesticides affecting food supply. From 1980 to 1999 intensive poisoning of C. frugilegus in Hungary forced the species to change their nest site selection habits, and large colonies have nearly disappeared there as a result, with only 38% of the population breeding colonially. As productivity is generally greater in larger colonies, further decreases may occur.
Red-footed Falcon status Near Threatened


Migratory: summer visitor to west Palearctic. Entire population, breeding from Baltic to Mongolia, winters in southern Africa; mainly semi-arid habitats in Angola, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, but also to some extent in adjacent parts of Zambia and South Africa. Surprisingly, only rarely recorded, even on passage, between Ethiopia and Malawi.
Passage between breeding and wintering ranges occurs on broad fronts, without concentrations at narrow sea-crossings. Autumn movement heaviest over east Mediterranean; most Siberian birds apparently travel west between 50 degrees and 60 degrees N, pass north of Caspian and Black Seas, and then (joined by European birds) south over Balkans, west Turkey, and Cyprus towards Egypt. Some passage also occurs south of Caspian, but uncommon in Iran and unrecorded Iraq. In view of rarity in East Africa, southward movement presumably west of Rift Valley; marked autumn passage noted Darfur, and recorded Chad September-October. This species unusual in that ?centre of gravity? of movement lies significantly further west in spring, when considerable numbers move north through West Africa Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Cameroun and cross Mediterranean from Algeria eastwards. As consequence, quite often penetrates Morocco and western half of Europe in spring, sometimes in numbers, leading to sporadic nesting west and north-west of normal breeding range.
Departures from breeding grounds begin mid-August in Russia, but most leave in September; final exodus normally early October in south Russia and mid-October in central Europe, though stragglers may persist until November or even December. Passage across Mediterranean at peak late September and early October, and winter quarters reached in latter month. Return movements begin about early March; Mediterranean recrossed mid-April to mid-May. First birds arrive central Europe and Ukraine from mid-April, central Russia late April or early May, and more northern and eastern breeding areas during first or even second half of May.

Distribution map

Red-footed Falcon distribution range map


Title Paternity assurance in two species of colonially breeding
falcon: the kestrel Falco tinnunculus and the red-footed
falcon Falco vespertinus
Author(s): Rottraut Ille et al.
Abstract: Mate-guarding and frequent within-pair copulations..[more]..
Source: Etologa, 10:11-15 (2002)

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