2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Birds

How to read a taxobox
Yeti, a hybrid white gyrfalcon × saker falcon
Yeti, a hybrid white gyrfalcon × saker falcon
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Falconidae
Genus: Falco
Linnaeus, 1758

About 37; see text.

A Falcon is any of several species of raptors in the genus Falco. The word comes from Latin falco, related to Latin falx (" sickle") because of the shape of these birds' wings.


Adult falcons have thin tapered wings, which enable them to fly at high speed and to change direction rapidly. Younger falcons, in their first year of flying, have longer flight feathers which makes their configuration more like that of a general-purpose bird such as a broadwing. This is to make it easier for them to fly while learning the exceptional skills required to be effective hunters in their adult configuration.

Peregrine Falcons are the fastest-moving creatures on Earth. Other falcons include the Gyrfalcon, Lanner Falcon, and the Merlin. Some small insectivorous falcons with long narrow wings are called hobbies, and some which hover while hunting for small rodents are called kestrels. The falcons are part of the family Falconidae, which also includes the caracaras, Laughing Falcon, forest falcons, and falconets.

The traditional term for a male falcon is tercel ( UK spelling) or tiercel ( US spelling), from Latin tertius = third because of the belief that only one in three eggs hatched a male bird. Some sources give the etymology as deriving from the fact that a male falcon is approximately one third smaller than the female.

A falcon chick, especially one reared for falconry, that is still in its downy stage is known as an eyas (sometimes spelt eyass). The word arose by mistaken division of Old French un niais, from Latin presumed *nidiscus ("nestling", from nidus = nest).

The technique of hunting with trained captive birds of prey is known as falconry.

In February 2005 the Canadian scientist Dr Louis Lefebvre announced a method of measuring avian intelligence in terms of their innovation in feeding habits. The falcon and crow family scored highest on this scale .

Systematics and evolution theory

Compared to other birds of prey, the fossil record of the falcons is not well distributed in time. The oldest fossils tentatively assigned to this genus are from the Late Miocene, less than 10 million years ago. This coincides with a period in which many modern genera of birds became recognizable in the fossil record. The falcon lineage - probably of North American or European, possibly of African origin, given the distribution of fossil Falconidae is likely to be somewhat older however.

Falcons are roughly divisible into three groups. The first contains the kestrels (probably excepting the American Kestrel: Groombridge et al. 2002); usually small and stocky falcons of mainly brown upperside colour and sometimes sexually dimorphic; three African species that are mainly grey in colour stand apart from the typical members of this group. Kestrels feed chiefly on terrestrial vertebrates and invertebrates of appropriate size, such as rodents, reptiles, or insects.

The second group contains slightly larger (on average) and more elegant species, the hobbies and relatives. These birds are characterized by considerable amounts of dark slaty grey in their plumage; the malar area is nearly always black. They feed mainly on smaller birds.

Last are the Peregrine Falcon and its relatives: powerful birds, often the size of small hawks, they also have a black malar area (except some very light colour morphs), and often a black cap also. Otherwise, they are somewhat intermediate between the other groups, being chiefly medium grey with some lighter or brownish colours on the upper side. They are on average more delicately patterned than the hobbies, and as opposed to the other groups, where tail colour is not indicative of evolutionary relationships

The tails of the large falcons are quite uniformly dark grey with rather inconspicuous black banding and small white tips. These largest Falco feed on mid-sized birds and terrestrial vertebrates, taking prey of up to 5-pound sage grouse size.

While these three groups, loosely circumscribed, are an informal arrangement, they are probably contain several distinct clades in their entirety. A study of mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data of some kestrels (Groombridge et al. 2002) identified a clade containing the Common Kestrel and related " malar-striped" species, to the exclusion of such taxa as the Greater Kestrel (which lacks a malar stripe), the Lesser Kestrel (which is very similar to the Common but also has no malar stripe), and the American Kestrel. The latter species has a malar stripe, but its colour pattern - apart from the brownish back - and notably also the black feathers behind the ear, which never occur in the true kestrels, are more reminiscent of some hobbies. The malar-striped kestrels apparently split from their relatives in the Gelasian, roughly 2.5-2 mya, and are apparently of tropical East African origin.

Species in taxonomic order

Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel
New Zealand Falcon, a relative of the hobbies
New Zealand Falcon, a relative of the hobbies
  • Madagascar Kestrel, Falco newtoni
  • Seychelles Kestrel, Falco araea
  • Mauritius Kestrel, Falco punctatus
  • Réunion Kestrel, Falco duboisi - extinct (c. 1700)
  • Spotted Kestrel, Falco moluccensis
  • Nankeen Kestrel or Australian Kestrel, Falco cenchroides
  • Common Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus
    • Rock Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus rupicolus
  • Greater Kestrel, Falco rupicoloides
  • Fox Kestrel, Falco alopex
  • Lesser Kestrel, Falco naumanni
  • Grey Kestrel, Falco ardosiaceus
  • Dickinson's Kestrel, Falco dickinsoni
  • Banded Kestrel, Falco zoniventris
  • Red-necked Falcon, Falco chicquera
  • Red-footed Falcon, Falco vespertinus
  • Amur Falcon, Falco amurensis
  • Eleonora's Falcon, Falco eleonorae
  • Sooty Falcon, Falco concolor
  • Aplomado Falcon, Falco femoralis
  • American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  • Merlin Falcon, Falco columbarius
  • Bat Falcon, Falco rufigularis
  • Orange-breasted Falcon, Falco deiroleucus
  • Eurasian Hobby, Falco subbuteo
  • African Hobby, Falco cuvierii
  • Oriental Hobby, Falco severus
  • Australian Hobby, Falco longipennis
  • New Zealand Falcon, Falco novaeseelandiae
  • Brown Falcon, Falco berigora
  • Grey Falcon, Falco hypoleucos
  • Lanner Falcon, Falco biarmicus
  • Laggar Falcon, Falco jugger
  • Saker Falcon, Falco cherrug
  • Black Falcon, Falco subniger
  • Gyr Falcon, Falco rusticolus
  • Prairie Falcon, Falco mexicanus
  • Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus
    • Barbary Falcon, Falco (peregrinus) pelegrinoides
  • Taita Falcon, Falco fasciinucha
Retrieved from " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon"