Archived 2014 discussion: Taita Falcon (Falco fasciinucha): request for information

This discussion was first published as part of the 2012 Red List update, but remains open for comment to enable reassessment in 2014.

BirdLife species factsheet for Taita Falcon

Taita Falcon Falco fasciinucha is a resident of eastern and south-eastern Africa, where it is associated with the cliffs of gorges and escarpments, especially while breeding. It is listed as Near Threatened under criteria C2a(ii); D1 on the basis that it is thought to have a very small population, currently estimated at only c.1,000 mature individuals, with previously no evidence of any decline in the population despite potential threats from pesticide use, human disturbance, infrastructure development and competition from other raptors for food and nest-sites.

The species has formerly been regarded as secure owing to the relative inaccessibility of its breeding habitats. Recently, however, declines have been noted in the number of breeding sites in Zimbabwe (per A. Botha in litt. 2011) where it occurs at its highest known densities in southern Africa (Hockey et al. 2005 and references therein). The current paucity of data and very few known breeding locations make assessing population trends very difficult.

The species could suffer locally from a proposed dam on the Zambezi, and pesticide spraying in northern Zimbabwe has also raised concerns (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). It is also potentially threatened by habitat loss through the clearing of woodland, but its rarity is regarded as probably a function of its specialisation (Hockey et al. 2005 and references therein). In southern Africa, the species occurs where Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus densities are relatively high, suggesting that they overlap in resource requirements, but F. peregrinus may also competitively exclude F. fasciinucha from some areas (Hockey et al. 2005 and references therein).

Further information on the species is requested from all parts of its range, with particular emphasis on population estimates and trends, as well as likely threats.

References:

Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D. A. (2001) Raptors of the world. London: Christopher Helm.

Hockey, P. A. R., Dean, W. R. J. and Ryan, P. G. (2005) Roberts birds of southern Africa. 7th edition. Cape Town, South Africa: Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund.

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5 Responses to Archived 2014 discussion: Taita Falcon (Falco fasciinucha): request for information

  1. Re: Taita Falcon
    I have observed the Taita Falcon in Kenya since the 1970s and have published these observations. The species is easily overlooked. EG a colleague and I have observed Ruppell’s Vultures at a cliff for over 10 years without seeing one. Only sleeping under the cliffs revealed 3 Taita Falcons. I am now, with Peregrine Fund support, studying these birds. In Kenya their status is unclear due to lack of previous known occupancy and paucity of comparible contemporary observations. However the decline in large falcons seen in Kenya may be copied in the Taita Falcon, although loss of chief competitors may assist the species.
    In general, most raptors throughout East Africa have declined at rates that exceed IUCN criteria for up-listing and I would with confidence err towards caution with so naturally rare a species and uplist it.
    I would like to be included in the process.
    sincerely Simon

  2. The known South African population of Taita Falcon currently stands at seven breeding pairs, with an eighth territory occupied by only a single bird. A ninth territory that was occupied and active in 2006-2009 is now occupied by Lanner Falcons F. biarmicus.These data are the product of five years of survey and monitoring in the Mpumalanga/Limpopo escarpment region of the country by the SA Taita Falcon Survey Team, now operating as a “Species Guardian” under the auspices of the BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme.

    Late season data on breeding success in this small population for the last two seasons read as follows: 2010 – 6/9 identified territories occupied by pairs of birds, 4/6 occupied territories successfully bred, 2.5 young fledged per successful pair, 1.5 young fledged per occupied territory; 2011 – 5/9 territories occupied, 4/5 occupied territories bred, 2.0 young fledged per successful pair, 1.6 young fledged per occupied territory. Hence, breeding success seems relatively good, while territory occupancy is quite erratic.

    In collaboration with the Birds Of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, we also organised a workshop on the overall status of Taita Falcon at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Sept 2008, at which it was decided, on the back apparent decreases in the numbers of breeding pairs in Zimbabwe (up to 60% of previously occupied territories appear to be vacant – Neil Deacon, pers. comm.), and a general lack of good data from many other parts of the species’ range, that uplisting of the Taita Falcon to higher global threat status was a priority, in order to bring the global red-list closer in to line with what we know about the consistent rarity of this species, and what we suspect concerning possible declines in at least some key areas of its distribution.

    While data on population sizes and trends across Africa are few, we recommend that the threat status of Taita Falcon be raised to globally ‘Vulnerable’.

    • Andrew Jenkins / SA Taita Falcon Survey Team says:

      Further to my comments posted on behalf of the South African Taita Falcon Survey Team in January 2012, the team has since conducted two further surveys of the South African population of this species, and spent a week searching the Batoka Gorge system on the Zambezi River, downstream of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border.

      While the data are unavoidably very sparse, the picture emerging for the SA population is concerning. Of the initial nine potential or definite territories identified in our study area, two now appear to be completely deserted, three are occupied by single birds only, just four are occupied by pairs and only two of these bred successfully in 2013, raising five young.

      It is still too early to pronounce this population in decline, and conditional changes over the next year or two might elicit a resurgence. Alternatively, some of our “lost” pairs could have moved to other cliffs (we hope to do a second, thorough survey of the entire Mpumalanga/Limpopo escarpment area later this year, to search for new or relocated pairs). However, the fact that over half of our initial territories are now either vacant or occupied by lone individuals – some of which have been on their own for up to three years – could suggest that there aren’t enough floating birds to sustain this small and isolated population…

      Our visit to Batoka Gorge – long regarded as optimal habitat for the Taita Falcon and possibly the core of it’s global distribution – yielded an even more concerning outcome. Most of the latter surveys of this area were done by the late Ron Hartley of the Peregrine Fund/Zimbabwe Falconers Club, starting with a known population of six pairs in the first 40 km of this gorge system (with more suspected along its full extent of >100 km), but depleted to only two pairs in the first 25 km of the gorge in the last ZFC survey, conducted in 2006. We took a team of 5-6 observers and worked 15 key locations along the first 25 km of the Batoka Gorge for six days in July 2013, and didn’t see a single Taita Falcon, despite searching at all the previously known nest sites, and finding multiple pairs of Peregrine and Lanner Falcon, Verreaux’s Eagle and Augur Buzzard. We hope to return to Batoka in October this year to confirm this result, but all indications are that the Batoka population of Taita Falcons is much diminished.

      To the best of our knowledge, these data from South Africa and Zimbabwe are the most recent and reliable population size and trend estimates for this species available anywhere in its global range. They are the product of systematic surveys by experienced observers, and strongly suggest marked decreases in numbers in both areas.

      On this basis, we continue to believe that the Taita Falcon should be uplisted to globally “Vulnerable”.

  3. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information and comments posted above, our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List would be to uplist Taita Falcon Falco fasciinucha to Vulnerable under criteria C2a(i); D.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 March, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  4. Andy Symes says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there has been no change to our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List status of this species.

    The final categorisation will be published later in 2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

Comments are closed.