Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus


Justification of Red List Category
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.

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number 300,000-800,000 individuals, with 30,000-64,000 pairs in Europe (BirdLife International 2015).

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction. The European population (forming c.40% of the global population) is estimated to be decreasing at a rate approaching 30% in 17.1 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).

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 at migratory roost sites in Central Europe (Palatitz et al. 2015). It winters in southern Africa, from South Africa northwards potentially to southern Kenya (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001). 
It has a large global population estimated to be 300,000-800,000 individuals (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001), but recent evidence suggests that it is undergoing large declines in parts of its range. The European population of 30,300-63,400 pairs (forming c.40% of the global population) (BirdLife International 2015) 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 approaching 30% in 17.1 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015). 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). The Russian population was estimated to have declined by 5-10% between 2000 and 2012 (BirdLife International 2015). Declines have been reported from eastern Siberia, where the species may have disappeared as a breeder from the Baikal region (Popov 2000, I. Fefelov in litt. 2005). 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 (P. Palatitz in litt. 2005, 2007) although the population was estimated at 700-1,200 pairs in 2003-2012 (BirdLife International 2015). Yearly counts here can show high fluctuations in breeding numbers, and the population within this country is becoming highly conservation dependent (P. Palatitz in litt. 2016). There has been a dramatic decline in breeding numbers in Slovakia (R. Slobodnik pers comm. to P. Palatitz in litt. 2016). 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 as low as 3-10 pairs (per P. Palatitz in litt. 2016). 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). Populations in central Asia appear to be stable, with the species reported to be common in suitable habitats in Kazakhstan (especially in forest-steppe zone with Rook Corvus frugilegus colonies), and no evidence of any population declines there (E. Bragin in litt. 2005). Some small marginal populations in south-west Europe are also stable or increasing (BirdLife International 2004), especially in Italy (P. Palatitz in litt. 2007).


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).


Threats include destruction of suitable nest-sites when rookery trees are felled for agricultural expansion or timber (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001, Anon. 2007) and, more significantly, the widespread use of pesticides is affecting the food supply (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001, E. Bragin in litt. 2016). Changes in agricultural practices and infrastructure intensification are causing habitat loss, and a decrease in extensive grassland management, especially grazing, is affecting the species's food supply (Palatitz et al. 2009, E. Bragin in litt. 2016). Poisoning of C. frugilegus in Hungary, and the decline of this species in Russia and Kazakhstan have forced the Red-footed Falcon to change its nest site selection habits (Fehérvári et al. 2008), and large colonies have nearly disappeared as a result, with only 38% of the Hungarian population breeding colonially (P. Palatitz in litt. 2005, E. Bragin in litt. 2016). This trend has been partly reversed in Hungary as a result of nest box provision, but the falcon is now dependent on such conservation meatisures (Palatitz et al. 2008, 2015). As productivity is generally greater in larger colonies, further decreases may occur in the absence of conservation efforts. 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).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix I and II. 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). 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
Butchart, S., Harding, M., Derhé, M., Taylor, J., Khwaja, N., Ashpole, J, Ekstrom, J., Westrip, J.

Slobodnik, R., Fefelov, I., van Zyl, A., Bragin, E., Petkov, N., Palatitz, P.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Falco vespertinus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/10/2021.