Sooty Falcon Falco concolor


Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Vulnerable as it is estimated to have a single small, declining population, although precise drivers of the decline remain unclear.

Population justification
Estimating the total population has proved notoriously difficult, partly due to lack of data, and the population may have been overestimated in the past (Kavanaugh and King 2008). 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 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). Knowledge gaps about the population exist for inland areas of Egypt, Sudan, and Libya, and from the islands of the Dhalak Archipelago, Eritrea, and some Egyptian islands in the Red Sea. 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), equating to 2,800-4,000 mature individuals.

This species is migratory and based on its wintering grounds and passage route it is assumed that all individuals have an opportunity to mix. Therefore it is tentatively assumed to function as one subpopulation.

Trend justification
There have been declines in the breeding population in many countries, with no population known to be increasing (Kavanaugh and King 2008; Gallo-Orsi et al. 2014; McGrady et al. 2017). 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 et al. 2017, 2018, 2019); each of the latter when surveyed has shown a decline relative to previous survey results (McGrady and Nicoll 2008; Shah et al. 2008; McGrady et al. 2018, 2019). 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, including up to a 50% decline in Saudia Arabia, which holds c.15% of the population, with no population known to be increasing (Gallo-Orsi et al. 2014). Therefore a slow or moderate and ongoing population decline is inferred to be taking place, the overall rate of which has not been quantified, but is not currently thought to be >20% over three generations.

Distribution and population

Falco concolor breeds discontinuously and highly locally from Libya, eastwards through Egypt to the Red Sea islands off Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti, islands and coasts of north-west and south-west Saudi Arabia (Jennings 2010), and north-west Yemen, inland areas of central and southern Israel, south Jordan, as well as islands in the Persian Gulf from BahrainQatar to Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Iran (Fahimi and Jowkar 2010), 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, mostly in the south and west, but a small but unknown proportion winters in coastal Mozambique and eastern South Africa (south to southern Natal), and perhaps southern Tanzania, there is also limited over-wintering in the southern part of the breeding range.


It breeds colonially or singly in hot, arid environments, typically on inland and coastal cliffs, small rocky islands and rugged desert mountains. Breeding aggregations are almost exclusively on islands. On the mainland, especially inland, they nest singly. Ground nests have been recorded within strands of mangrove (Gallo Orsi et al. 2014), and some nests are lost to spring tide flooding (M. Jennings pers. comm.). The nest is a shallow depression scraped into the ground, almost always in a rock niche, or shaded by an overhang, or vegetation (Walter 1979; Gaucher et al. 1988), but eggs can also be laid on bare rock (Walter 1979). Breeding is timed so that the provisioning of chicks coincides with the autumn migration of small birds. Tracked birds from Oman mostly departed in late October - early November. Birds arrive in their wintering grounds in Madagascar and south-east Africa from late October, but some stopover on the mainland before crossing the sea to Madagascar (Javed et al. 2012; Al Jahdhami et al. submitted). 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 seems to forage mostly for large insects over grassland and open country with trees and patches of agriculture. Small birds and lizards are also consumed (Walter 1979). 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). Tracked adult and juvenile birds from breeding sites in northern Oman took 32-62 days to migrate to Madagascar, and all used inland routes (Al Jahdhami et al. submitted). 


Many of its breeding colonies are inaccessible or in protected areas. Historical breeding areas have been lost to development. Threats on migration and non-breeding areas are also active. Human disturbance may be a factor in some areas, including Bahrain's Hawar Islands (Kavanagh and King 2008), the Daymaniyat and Suwaydi Islands of Oman (McGrady et al. 2018, 2019), and Saudi Arabian Islands that are being developed. Increased pesticide use on the non-breeding ground has been suggested as a causal factor in the decline, 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  non-breeding season destination. This low apparent survival of immature birds could result in low recruitment to the breeding population, contributing to population declines (McGrady et al. 2016). Reduction in food availability due to declines in migratory small birds from breeding areas north of the species's distribution may affecting productivity and reducing breeding distribution. Lack of ecological and status data from throughout the year undermines conservation planning and implementation. This species may experience direct persecution in some countries, despite being legally protected in most countries in its range. The declines reported in Saudia Arabia by Gallo-Orsi et al. (2014) are thought to be caused by development of shrimp farms and the destruction of mangroves.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Field work was conducted on the offshore islands of northern Oman during 2007-2014, including a mark-recapture study, tracking of birds via satellite, and the collection of blood samples and unhatched eggs for contamination studies (McGrady et al. 2008, 2009, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019; Al Jahdhami et al. submitted).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor a number of breeding colonies across the breeding range 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 such as the Daymaniyat and Fahal Islands, Oman, and the Red Sea Islands of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Survey coastal areas near Muscat, where baseline data exist from 1978, to better quantify population declines. Train local people in survey and monitoring 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
Clark, J.

Abdulla Al Khuzai, S., Al-Jbour, S., Baha El Din, S., Blair, M., Butchart, S., Coles, T., Ekstrom, J., Gallo-Orsi, U., Gschweng, M., Harding, M., Hawkins, F., Javed, S., Jennings, M., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Mann, C., McGrady, M., Nicoll, M., Shobrak, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.R.S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Falco concolor. Downloaded from on 05/06/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 05/06/2023.