Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus


Justification of Red List category

This species is experiencing a rapid population decline, owing to habitat loss and degradation. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The European population, forming c.40% of the global population, is estimated to be 115,000-160,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International in prep.). The global population is therefore suspected to be 287,500-400,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The European population of 57,800-84,800 pairs (forming c.40% of the global population) (BirdLife International in prep.) suffered a large decline during 1970-1990 (Tucker and Heath 1994), and continued to decline during 1990-2000, particularly in the key populations in Russia and Ukraine, with overall declines exceeding 30% in 10 years (BirdLife International 2004). The European population is now estimated to be decreasing at a rate of 35-40% in 12 years (three generations [Bird et al. 2020]) (BirdLife International in prep.). A national scale survey conducted in Ukraine in 2009 estimated an approximate decline of 23% compared to 1990-2000 (Kostenko 2009). The Ukrainian population declined further between 2001 and 2012 by 10-20% as reported in the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) and recently it was estimated to be 2,000-2,600 pairs (Yaremchenko et al. in Palatitz et al. 2018). The European Russian population is estimated to have declined by 15-20% in three generations (BirdLife International in prep.).  In Hungary estimated populations declined from 2,000-2,500 pairs in the late 1980s to 600-700 pairs based on surveys in 2003-2006, but active conservation measures stabilized the trend and helped to increase the population to 1,200-1,300 breeding pairs in the last decade (Palatitz et al. 2018). The population within this country is becoming highly conservation dependent on artificial nests (Palatitz et al 2015; Solt et al. 2018), as decline and habitat shift of Rook to urban areas created a lack of natural nest sites in natural habitats. There has been a dramatic decline in breeding numbers in Slovakia, but nest box schemes recently stopped the decline (Slobodník et al. 2017). In Bulgaria the population was previously estimated at 50-150 pairs but dropped to 15-50 pairs based on a partial survey conducted in 2009 (Palatitz et al. 2009), was estimated at 10-15 pairs for the period 2005-2012 (BirdLife International 2015) and could be less than 10 pairs (Chezmediev in Palatitz et al. 2018). In 2006, surveys in Bulgaria found the species breeding at only 26 sites, out of 75 known locations (Anon. 2007). The population in Romania was estimated to be 1,000-1,500 pairs between 2006 and 2013 with a decreasing trend of 15-30% for the period 2001-2013 (BirdLife International 2015). The population in Romania was estimated to be 1,300-1,600 pairs in 2018 (Nagy in Palatitz et al. 2018). The small isolated population established in the 90's in Italy is stable, 50-70 pairs are breeding in the Northern lowland of Parma mainly in artificial nests  (BirdLife International 2004; Gustin et al. in Palatitz et al. 2009).

Little data is available on trends outside of Europe. Declines have been reported from eastern Siberia, where the species may have disappeared as a breeder from the Baikal region (Popov 2000, 2012); e.g. only single summer records are known in the northern part of the Irkutsk Region in the last decade (Popov 2012, 2018). Populations in natural forest habitats in central Asia appear to be stable, with the species reported to be common in suitable habitats in Kazakhstan (Bragin 2015). However, large declines have been observed in agricultural landscapes (which support over half of the population) in Kazakhstan and Russia due to a decline in Rook colonies and increased use of pesticides (A. Bragin, personal communication 2021). With part of the population in this area stable, and part suspected to be declining at a rate of over 70%, the overall population decline in Central Asia is suspected to be 25-45%.

Distribution and population

This species 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 north-west and south Russia and north Kazakhstan to extreme north-west China and the upper Lena river (Russia). Large numbers of individuals congregate in autumn at pre-migratory roost sites in Central Europe and the Northern Black Sea region (Palatitz et al. 2018). It winters in southern Africa, from South Africa through Botswana, Namibia, Zambia northwards to Angola (Palatitz et al. 2018). 


The species breeds in open lowlands with trees and plenty of insects and small vertebrates, 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 north-east, boggy areas and taiga edge. It is usually colonial, breeding in disused nests of other birds (most commonly C. frugilegus), but can also be solitary. It is found from sea-level to c.300 m in the west, but to 1,500 m in Asia (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001). It is often crepuscular (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). The species is migratory, with birds travelling great distances to their wintering grounds in southern Africa (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Most leave their breeding grounds in August and September, making the return journey between February and June, with a peak in May (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, P. Palatitz in litt. 2016). Birds migrate in a broad front across the Mediterranean Sea, not concentrating at bottleneck sites to the extent that many other raptors do (Brown et al. 1982, del Hoyo et al. 1994, Snow and Perrins 1998), although individuals from Eastern populations can aggregate in large numbers (e.g. Fehérvári et al. 2014). On migration, they form mixed flocks often over 100 strong with other falcons such as F. naumanni, and tend to stay at very high altitudes for the majority of the journey (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). The bulk of the population overwinters in the Kalahari region, but exact distributions may vary year to year depending on precipitation, which affects insect abundance (P. Palatitz in litt. 2016). Before the northwards migration it may gather at stopover sites, and returns to the breeding grounds via West Africa and South and East Europe, creating a migration loop (P. Palatitz in litt. 2016).


At the breeding grounds, the greatest threats are loss and degradation of foraging habitats and loss of nest sites (Palatitz et al. 2009). Intensification of agriculture has resulted in conversion of natural habitats to agricultural fields and a decrease in extensive grassland management, especially grazing, reducing the availability of suitable foraging habitats (Palatitz et al. 2009). Widespread use of pesticides further affects food supply (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001). This species primarily uses rookeries for colonial nesting throughout their breeding range, therefore threats that affect Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) also affect Red-footed Falcons. The Rook population has declined in many areas due to logging of rookery trees, disturbance and persecution (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001; Anon. 2007; Palatitz et al. 2009; BirdLife International in prep.). Even in areas where Rook populations are stable, some rooks have shifted to nesting in urban habitats (Palatitz et al. 2009). This has forced the Red-footed Falcon to change its nest site selection habits, becoming heavily dependent on artificial nest boxes in some areas (Fehérvári et al. 2008; Palatitz et al. 2008, 2015). As productivity is generally greater in larger colonies, further decreases may occur in the absence of conservation efforts (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001). The species appears to be hunted opportunistically during migration. In October 2007, 52 birds that had been roosting at Phasouri, Cyprus, were found shot (BirdLife International 2007, Palatitz et al. 2009). Illegal killing or harvest has also been reported in Ukraine (Yaremchenko et al. 2009), Malta (Fenech 2010; N. Fenech in litt. 2021) and Angola (Palatitz et al. 2019). 

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix I and II. Raptors MoU Category 1. Bern Convention Appendix II. Added to Annex I of EU Birds Directive in 2004. Recent conservation measures in Hungary have shown that birds will occupy artificial colonies, meaning that this could be a useful mid-term conservation tool to stop population fragmentation (Palatitz et al. 2015). The species is also included in agro-environmental programs in Hungary. Following surveys in Bulgaria, which indicated a decline in the number of suitable breeding sites, over 100 nest boxes were constructed and installed in suitable places during 2006; however, none were used by the species in 2007 (Anon. 2007). Nestboxes have been highly successful elsewhere - 50% of nestboxes were occupied in Italy in 2018 (Calabrese et al. 2020), and nestboxes have successfully slowed the decline in numbers in Slovakia (Slobodnik et al. 2017). Anti-poaching patrols have been increased in the Akrotiri area of Cyprus, following the unprecedented loss of a migratory flock to hunters in October 2007 (BirdLife International 2007). Sporadic irregular population surveys have been carried out and are implemented in Serbia, while a nation-wide census of the species was concluded in 2009, in the Ukraine (Kostenko 2009). A European Action Plan for the species has been in implementation since 2010 (Palatitz et al. 2009).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to carry out regular surveys to monitor population trends. Conduct further research into the effects of changes in agriculture and land management. Change farming and land-use practices in Central Europe, through EU policy and/or national schemes. Promote land management that would aid the spread of C. frugilegus in rural areas where it has disappeared and dissuade the killing of this species. Provide more artificial colonies for the species in suitable habitat (see Fehérvári et al. 2012). Prevent hunting in problem areas through law enforcement, prosecution and awareness campaigns.


Text account compilers
Haskell, L., Clark, J.

Ashpole, J, Bragin, E., Butchart, S., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Fefelov, I., French, N., Harding, M., Khwaja, N., Palatitz, P., Petkov, N., Slobodnik, R., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.R.S. & van Zyl, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Falco vespertinus. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023.