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Falco berigora

NSW Conservation status: Secure

The Brown Falcon is also known as a brown hawk.  It is one of the most widespread birds in Australia — there is almost nowhere they cannot be seen, the exception being the densest of forests. They are most commonly seen, usually alone, sitting upright on an exposed perch such as a power pole or large dead tree from where prey can be sighted. They are also seen hovering or flying back and forth over open habitats such as; deserts, coastal vegetation, agricultural fields, roadsides, forest clearings and especially open grasslands and low shrublands, when searching for prey. Birds may stay within the same areas throughout the year or may move around (locally nomadic) in response to changes in conditions and food availability.

The predominant feature of the Brown Falcon is the lack of a clutching foot mechanism to catch and kill prey, which is characteristic of other raptors. Instead, they have powerful hooked bills with specialised 'tomial teeth' and matching notches which can sever neck bones with one bite.                                      

When prey is sighted, the bird swoops down and grasps it in its claws (talons), killing the prey with a bite to the spine.
Brown Falcons are small to medium-sized (41cm- 51cm Average size) raptors (birds of prey). The female is larger than the male (average weight: male 506g, female 681g). Adult birds are usually 10 to 20cm in length. These falcons make a loud, high pitched, cackle call (like a laying hen) and screeching while in flight but are normally silent at rest.

Brown Falcons are generalist, opportunistic predators that take prey from a huge range of different wildlife. This is in direct contrast to the rest of Australia’s falcons which have a comparatively narrow dietary preference. However, although the Brown Falcons dietary flexibility is a likely factor behind their widespread distribution, individual pairs of Brown Falcons sometimes concentrate heavily on particular prey types, such as rabbits or reptiles.  This pattern likely results, from individuals taking advantage of local, small-scale changes in prey abundance. 

The Brown Falcon also eats small mammals, including house mice and young rabbits, with introduced rabbits being their most common prey in many places, especially in summer. They also eat small birds, lizards, snakes, and a variety of invertebrates, particularly caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. Insects form the bulk of the animals' diets during winter.
The Brown Falcon has a range of plumage colours (morphs), varying from very dark brown (dark morph) to light brown above and off-white below (light morph).                                                                   

 Generally, birds typically have red-brown heads with narrow black streaks with a light crown and off-white chin. Wings are a spotted red-brown with dark brown quills. The upperparts are dark brown and the underparts are pale buff or cream. The sides of the head are brown with a characteristic double teardrop-stripe below the eye. Beaks are light blue/grey; eyes are brown.        

Birds from the tropical north generally show the most contrast in colour; are very dark, with a paler face and undertail, although some light streaking is common. The pale morph birds from central Australia and inland areas are paler all over with white under parts that are varyingly streaked with brown, sometimes heavily so. These paler birds are usually associated with inland areas, but all the colour varieties are fairly scattered throughout the range.                                                                                           

 It is the pale morph birds which are often miss-identified as the Nankeen Kestrel, which can look very similar but is much smaller in size. The easy difference to distinguish these birds apart is that; the Brown Falcon has brown feathered trousers with grey legs while the Kestrel has white feathered trousers with yellow legs.                                                                                                               

Younger Brown Falcons resemble dark adults, but have less obvious barring on the tail, and a buff-yellow colour on the face, throat and nape of the neck. Brown Falcons breed from June to November in the south and November to April in the north.                                                                                                     

 The nest used by the Falcon is normally an old abandoned nest from another hawk species, but they may build their own stick nest in a tree. Occasionally birds nest in open tree hollows.                       

 They lay between 2 to 6 (usually 3) eggs that have red and brown spots and blotches. Incubation of eggs takes approximately 30 days till hatching while the Nestling Period is usually over about 45 days. Both the males and the females take turns incubating the eggs and both care for the young, however if one parent takes more responsibility, it is the female. The male generally takes care of providing for his mate and young by gathering and bringing food back to the nest.

By Sharon McGrigor
References: Birds in Backyards, BirdLife Australia, Wikipedia, The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia

Sharon McGrigor
Melanie Barsony
Melanie Barsony
Melanie Barsony


Updated March 2021  

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