VU
Taita Falcon Falco fasciinucha



Justification

Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Vulnerable owing to evidence that its very small population is suspected to be experiencing moderately rapid declines.

Population justification
It has been estimated that there are probably more than 1,000 mature individuals (Thomsett 1998), although more recently it was stated that there are probably substantially fewer than 500 pairs (Jenkins et al. 2008). The population is therefore estimated to number 500-1,000 mature individuals, assumed to equate to c.750-1,500 individuals in total.

Trend justification
The population is estimated to be in decline, based on evidence of reduced territory occupation in some areas, such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, during recent years (A. Jenkins in litt. 2012, 2014; Jenkins et al., 2019). Recent data for South Africa reports a 30% decrease in breeding individuals between 2011 and 2019 (A. Jenkins in litt2012; K. Walker pers. comm. 2020), equating to a 42% reduction rate over three generations. Additionally, a 2013 survey in Zimbabwe found no territories in an area that once contained 12 breeding individuals c.1994 (Jenkins et al., 2019). These survey data are difficult to interpret given the limited time span of observations and the species's erratic occupancy of breeding territories, however the rate of decline over three generations is precautionarily suspected to fall in the 30-49% band.

Distribution and population

Falco fasciinucha is uncommon to rare throughout its wide range in eastern and southern Africa. Due to variations in observer effort and because 'islands' of suitable rock-face habitat are infrequently visited by ornithologists (Thomsett 1998), the distribution of records is patchy. Its range, distribution and population are therefore poorly known (Thomsett 1998), with probably around 40 known active nest-sites (Jenkins 2007). However, the species is easily overlooked (S. Thomsett in litt. 2011), and it has been estimated that there are probably more than 1,000 mature individuals (Thomsett 1998), although more recently it was stated that there are probably substantially fewer than 500 pairs (Jenkins et al. 2008). It is recorded from southern Ethiopia, eastern South Sudan, eastern Uganda, Kenya (probably occurring at low densities throughout the country) (Zimmerman et al. 1996), Tanzania (scattered records) (Zimmerman et al. 1996), eastern Zambia (a few sites), Malawi (two recent records), Zimbabwe (20-50 pairs [White et al. 1994], but recently reported to be in decline [N. Deacon per A. Jenkins in litt. 2012]), Mozambique (5 unconfirmed sightings), Botswana and north-eastern South Africa (seven breeding pairs and an eighth territory occupied by a single bird in 2011 [A. Jenkins in litt. 2012]; however, by 2013 this had decreased to four pairs, of which two bred successfully in 2013, with two territories deserted and three occupied by single birds [A. Jenkins in litt. 2014]. In 2019, five pairs were recorded, with only three pairs successfully breeding (K Walker, 2020, pers. comm. 19 March). A survey of Batoka Gorge, Zimbabwe, regarded as possibly the core of the species's global distribution, in July 2013 yielded no sightings, suggesting that this population is greatly diminished (A. Jenkins in litt. 2014; Jenkins et al., 2019). The species's status in Kenya, as in much of its range, is difficult to judge owing to the lack of previous occupancy data and paucity of contemporary observations (S. Thomsett in litt. 2011). 

Ecology

It occurs at gorges and escarpments, up to 3,800 m, using associated cliffs for nesting (White et al. 1994, D. Turner in litt. 1999) and roosting, often overlooking river valleys. It is largely sedentary and does not wander far from favoured sites (D. Turner in litt. 1999). However, a review of sightings in Kenya confirms that it occurs in a variety of habitats (Thomsett 1998). It is closely associated with cliffs but does not have an absolute fidelity to a 'home cliff' and is sometimes sighted away from cliff environments. A portion of the population is therefore prone to wander away from typical habitat. These findings from East Africa are at odds with studies from southern Africa where the species does not tend to wander into flat areas devoid of cliffs (Thomsett 1998). It feeds mainly on small birds (D. Turner in litt. 1999). In Zimbabwe, the species breeds on cliffs in zones of dry, deciduous miombo woodland (Hartley et al., 1993) While it breeds on rocky cliffs, intact woodland habitat surrounding the nest sites are critical for the persistence of this species (Jenkins et al. 2019; Jenkins et al. 2020 in prep). In South Africa, the species breeds on cliffs above dense, broad-leaved and fine-leaved Savanna, and below grassland Savanna.

Threats

The spraying of organochlorine pesticides in northern Zimbabwe may have reduced numbers there, and pesticide-spraying (e.g. through operations to control Quelea and locusts) may pose a significant threat in other areas, including a recorded case in Uganda (Thomsett 1998). Helicopters and micro-light aircraft appear to have caused considerable disturbance to birds resident along the Victoria Falls gorges of the Zambezi, and the few birds that remain (D. Turner in litt. 1999) are threatened with flooding by a proposed dam (K. Hustler in litt. 1999). Reasons for its rarity in East Africa may include competition for food and nest sites with the larger and more dominant Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus and predation of young by the Peregrine Falcon, Lanner Falcon F. biarmicus and owls, e.g. Spotted Eagle-owl Bubo africanus. For example, in South Africa, a territory that was occupied by this species from 2006 to 2009, has been lost to Lanner Falcons (A. Jenkins in litt. 2012). In South Africa, rural development and agricultural encroachment on core habitat surrounding breeding cliffs are having both a negative impact on Taita Falcon, and a positive impact on larger congeners (Jenkins et al., 2020 in prep). This effect is most notable when the climax woodland is lost and converted to open habitats, which favours larger Falco species.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Surveys for the species in South Africa have been conducted in recent years (Jenkins 2007, Jenkins et al. 2008, A. Jenkins in litt. 2012, 2014). BirdLife South Africa and the South African Taita Falcon Survey Team have concluded a study assessing the factors which influence the accessibility of suitable habitat for Taita Falcon within broader raptor communities (Jenkins et al., 2020, in prep). 

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct a systematic, range-wide survey of its distribution and population size (D. Turner in litt. 1999). Initiate schemes to monitor breeding success (D. Turner in litt. 1999). Study its ecological requirements (L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Carry out research into its tolerance to disturbance (L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Evaluate the potential effects of pesticides, especially in northern Zimbabwe (K. Hustler in litt. 1999). Investigate interactions with other raptors. Protect areas of suitable habitat. Monitor changes in land-use at the base of cliffs with Taita Falcons to ensure that healthy woodlands are maintained.

Identification

28-30 cm. A dumpy and short tailed falcon with muscular proportions and powerful flight. Small robust falcon with dark upper parts, whitish throat and cheeks and rufous patches on its nape. The black moustachial stripes contrast against the white cheek and throat. The underparts pale rufous with narrow dark streaks. Cere, orbital ring and legs are yellow. Sexes similar. Juvenile and immature resemble adult with generally reduced rufous patches on side and back of head and more heavily streaked below. Similar spp. Similar markings and size to African Hobby but differs in having white throat and rufous patches on nape and entirely different build. Voice Typical falcon like high pitched screaming 'kree-kree-kree' and 'kek-kek-kek'. Hints located in high cliffs in mountainous terrain, favouring gorges, especially those below the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Acknowledgements

Text account compilers
O'Brien, A., Clark, J., Starkey, M.

Contributors
Allan, D., Baker, N., Bennun, L., Buechley, E., Colyn, R., Howes-Whitecross, M., Hustler, K., Irwin, M., Jenkins, A., Thomsett, S., Walker, K., van Zyl, A., Evans, M., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.R.S. & Symes, A.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Falco fasciinucha. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/10/2021.