Sooty Falcon Falco concolor


Justification of Red List Category
This species has been uplisted to Vulnerable following a revision of its global population estimate. It is now estimated to have a single small, declining population, although precise drivers of the decline remain unclear.

Population justification
The draft International Single Species Action Plan estimates a total breeding population of 1,400-2,000 pairs (Gallo-Orsi et al. 2014 unpublished), equating to 2,800-4,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
 There have been declines in the breeding population in many countries, with no population known to be increasing (Gallo-Orsi et al. 2014 unpublished), therefore a slow or moderate and ongoing population decline is inferred to be taking place.

Distribution and population

Falco concolor breeds discontinuously and highly locally from Libya, eastwards through Egypt to the Red Sea islands off Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia, islands and coasts of north-west and south-west Saudi Arabia and north-west Yemen, southern Israel, south Jordan and Bahrain, as well as islands in the Persian Gulf from Qatar to Oman, the United Arab Emirates and south-west Pakistan (Aspinall 1994); a few inland breeding records from Saudi Arabia show that its range extends to the interior of the region (Gaucher et al. 1988). Most of the population winters in Madagascar, but a small but unknown proportion winters in coastal Mozambique and eastern South Africa (south to southern Natal), and there is also limited over-wintering in the southern part of the breeding range.

Estimating the total population has proved notoriously difficult, and the population may have been overestimated in the past. Estimates of the total populations have ranged from 1,000-40,000 pairs, roughly equivalent to 2,000-80,000 mature individuals, and 3,000-120,000 individuals in total (Nicoll et al. 2008). However, there are now thought to be no more than a few thousand wintering in Madagascar and a more recent review of all Arabian census data found that the total Arabian population is probably just below 500 breeding pairs (Jennings and Sadler 2006, F. Hawkins in litt. 2007). Given that the Arabian population is generally regarded as the largest within its range (perhaps half of the world population), the estimate from Madagascar may indeed prove to be accurate (Jennings and Sadler 2006). More recently, the draft International Single Species Action Plan for the species has provided clearer population estimates, with the breeding population estimated at 1,400-2,000 pairs (Gallo-Orsi et al. 2014 unpublished), equating to 2,800-4,000 mature individuals.

Anecdotal evidence from Madagascar indicates a decline, and this is mirrored by data from breeding colonies in the Middle East (Kavanagh and King 2003, F. Hawkins in litt. 2007, M. McGrady in litt. 2007); each of the latter when surveyed has shown a decline relative to previous survey results (McGrady and Nicoll 2008, Shah et al. 2008). The small population in the UAE declined from 14-25 pairs in 1996 to five pairs in 2007 (Shah et al. 2008). The draft ISSAP also reports that there have been declines in the breeding population in many countries, with no population known to be increasing (Gallo-Orsi et al. 2014 unpublished).


It breeds colonially in hot, arid environments; on cliffs, small rocky islands and rugged desert mountains where its breeding is timed to coincide with the autumn migration of small birds on which it feeds. Its nest is a shallow depression dug into the ground (Gaucher et al. 1988). It is a migratory species, with birds arriving in their wintering grounds in Madagascar and south-east Africa from late October, and returning to breeding sites in April (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Migrants generally travel singly, or in pairs or small flocks (Brown et al. 1982, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In the non-breeding season it forages for large insects over grassland and open country with trees. Satellite tracking of an adult bird from UAE showed that it took 13 days to migrate to Madagascar, following an inland route of >5,600 km and stopping over at three sites in East Africa with some shrub cover and fresh water (Javed et al. 2012).


Most of its breeding colonies are inaccessible or in protected areas so it would appear to be declining due to pressures in wintering grounds or on migration. Still, human disturbance may be a factor in some areas, including Bahrain's Hawar Islands (Kavanagh and King 2008, McGrady and Nicoll 2008). Increased pesticide use has been suggested as a causal factor, but egg analysis indicates that it is at very low concentrations in these birds. Radio-tagging of birds in Oman suggested that only about 12 % of fledglings survived to the average age of first breeding, and that most of first-year mortality occurred during the first migration or soon after they reached their destination. This low apparent survival of immature birds could result in low recruitment to the breeding population, contribuiting to population declines (McGrady et al. 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
A two-year pilot survey was conducted on the offshore islands of northern Oman during 2007-2008, including the marking of birds with PIT rings and gathering of blood samples and unhatched eggs (McGrady et al. 2008, 2009).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor a number of breeding colonies annually to assess trends. Research the ecology of non-breeding and migrating birds to assess potential threatening processes. Oppose developments which would encroach on breeding colonies. Restrict access to important breeding colonies. Conduct surveys, to locate further breeding colonies and determine the proportion of birds that winter outside Madagascar. Establish annual monitoring at the important sites on the Daymaniyat and Fahal Islands, Oman. Survey coastal areas near Muscat, where baseline data exist from 1978, to better quantify population declines. Train local people in survey techniques (McGrady and Nicoll 2008).


34cm. Medium-sized agile falcon with long narrow wings and long tail. Flight rapid and elastic with sudden swoops and dives but also soaring and gliding on flat wings. Adult Sooty-grey all over. On upperwings contrast between darker primary wing-coverts but entirely lacking contrast in underwings. Juvenile: Show pale tips to upperpart feathers and yellow-buff underparts with sooty-grey streaking. Throat, hindneck and cheeks all yellowish-buff. Similar spp. Size slightly larger than F. subbuteo, but smaller than F. eleonorae. Resembles dark morph F. eleonorae but with more prominent yellow cere, con-colourous underwings and jizz more similar to F. subbuteo. Juvenile even more similar, best seperated by stuctural differences and broad dark terminal band on undetail. Hints Often crespuscular.


Text account compilers
Taylor, J., Butchart, S., Khwaja, N., Ekstrom, J., Westrip, J., Harding, M., Mahood, S., Symes, A.

Abdulla Al Khuzai, S., Al-Jbour, S., Baha El Din, S., Coles, T., Gschweng, M., Hawkins, F., Jennings, M., Mann, C., McGrady, M., Shobrak, M., Javed, S. & Blair, M.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Falco concolor. Downloaded from on 06/12/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 06/12/2021.