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Unveiling the Mysteries of the Black Falcon: Behavior Systematics and Survival

Black Falcon: Falcon subnigerThe Black Falcon (Falco subniger), also known as the Australian Falcon, is a magnificent bird, often seen in the open country throughout Australia. This powerful bird of prey is a member of the falcon family and is celebrated for its striking appearance, unique behaviors, and impressive hunting skills.

In this article, we will be exploring the identification of the Black Falcon, its similar species, its plumages, and its molts.


The Black Falcon is a medium-sized bird, measuring approximately 45-55 cm in length, with a wingspan of approximately 90-115 cm. It has a black head, neck, back, and wings.

The underparts are white with heavy, black streaking, and the tail feathers have white tips. The eyes are dark brown, and the beak is yellow with a black tip.

The feet and legs are yellow. Field


In the field, the Black Falcon can be distinguished by its powerful, deep wingbeats, and its swift, direct flight.

It flies with a slightly raised head and tail and has a distinctive swooping maneuver when hunting prey. The tail is long and narrow and often appears pointed.

The Yellow-legged Falcon and the Grey Falcon are similar in appearance, but the Black Falcon can be distinguished by its mostly black plumage and white underparts with black streaking.

Similar Species

The Grey Falcon (Falco hypoleucos) and the Yellow-legged Falcon (Falco subnigeroides) are two species that share some similarities with the Black Falcon. The Grey Falcon has a pale grey head, neck, and body, with a distinctive black facial mask around its eyes.

The wing feathers are darker than the rest of the body, and the tail has broad, black banding. The Yellow-legged Falcon has a similar appearance to the Black Falcon, but it has darker underparts, a more robust beak, and darker legs and feet.


Black Falcons have two plumages- adult and immature. Adult plumage:

In adult plumage, Black Falcons have a black head, neck, back, and wings with white underparts and black streaks.

The tail has white tips, and the underside of the wings is mottled white. Immature plumage:

Juvenile Black Falcons have a brown head, neck, and back, with a white underside and brown streaking.

The tail feathers are also brown. They start acquiring adult plumage at around two years of age.


Black Falcons have two molts -the pre-basic molt and the pre-alternate molt. Pre-basic molt:

The pre-basic molt is the molt that occurs when the bird sheds its feathers and grows new ones between summer and winter.

The Black Falcon molts most of its feathers, including the primary and secondary wing feathers and the tail feathers. Pre-alternate molt:

The pre-alternate molt occurs when the bird sheds its feathers and grows new ones in spring and summer.

The Black Falcon molts its feathers from the head, throat, breast, and body. In conclusion, the Black Falcon, with its distinctive features and incredible hunting skills, is a fascinating bird to encounter while exploring Australia.

Being able to identify it from similar species is crucial, and the knowledge of its plumages and molts is valuable information for bird enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Systematics History

The Black Falcon (Falco subniger) belongs to the Falconidae family of birds that includes other birds of prey like eagles, hawks, and kites. The systematics history of this bird species has been a subject of interest among researchers and bird enthusiasts for years.

In this article, we will delve into the Black Falcon’s systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, related species, and historical changes to its distribution.

Geographic Variation

The Black Falcon has a vast range and can be found all over Australia, including Tasmania. They are non-migratory birds and are often seen in the northern and central regions of the country.

However, there are noticeable geographical variations in their populations. The subspecies that are found in the arid regions of Western and Northern Australia, F.s. hanieli, tends to have a more reddish-brown underpart plumage than the birds found in other parts of Australia.

Additionally, Black Falcons found in the southeast of the Australian mainland have a paler underpart plumage than those in the northwest, with more extensive black streaking.


The Black Falcon has been described into two subspecies, namely Falco subniger elerithra and Falco subniger hanieli. However, some researchers argue that the differences between these two subspecies are too subtle to warrant a split, and further genetic analysis may be needed to determine whether they should in fact be considered subspecies.

Falco subniger hanieli is found in the desert regions of Western and Northern Australia, while Falco subniger elerithra is found in the rest of the country.

Related Species

The Black Falcon is a member of the Falco genus, which includes over 40 other species globally. The Black Falcon’s closest relative is the Grey Falcon (Falco hypoleucos).

Both birds have similar plumage but can be distinguished by the Grey Falcon’s distinctive black facial mask around its eyes. Other related species are the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), the Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), and the Hobby (Falco subbuteo).

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Black Falcon has not undergone any significant historical changes to its distribution. However, changes have been observed in its habitat because of human activities such as land clearing, grazing, and the introduction of foreign species.

This activity has had an impact on the Black Falcon and other bird species, reducing their population, and limiting their range. Increased activity in arid regions in Australia has brought about habitat loss.

In particular, loss of habitat in North-Western Australia has occurred due to fire, pastoralism, and habitat degradation, leading to a decline in the number of Black Falcons. In contrast, some populations have benefited from habitat modification resulting from human activity, such as in farmland, where Black Falcons have been observed to nest in trees found in pasture and damaged croplands.

With climate change and habitat modification being two of the biggest threats to the Black Falcon, conservation measures and monitoring are crucial to ensure that this magnificent bird of prey remains a fixture of the Australian landscape.


The Black Falcon is a fascinating and complex bird species with a rich systematics history. Geographic variations, subspecies, and related species have been identified and studied over time, providing valuable knowledge about this bird’s evolution and its relationships with other members of the Falconidae family.

Despite being a non-migratory bird, the Black Falcon’s population has still been affected by changes in the habitat resulting from human activity. With appropriate monitoring and conservation, we can ensure that the Black Falcon remains a fixture of the Australian landscape for future generations to enjoy and admire.


Black Falcons are typically seen in the open country of the arid and semi-arid zones of Australia. They are well adapted to various habitats ranging from desert and arid regions, savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands.

They are also known to occasionally inhabit the edges of forests and urban areas. Black Falcons are thought to be more common in areas with large populations of rodents, their primary prey, and are often spotted near grasslands and farmland where rodents are abundant.

These birds are also known to occupy man-made structures such as power poles, trees near waterways, and artificial structures built by humans like mines and dams.

Movements and Migration

The Black Falcon is a resident bird, which means that they don’t undertake migration, unlike many other bird species. However, they are known to disperse in search of food and nesting sites.

In some instances, juveniles wander further across open areas of varying habitats, where there is minimal competition for resources, to establish territories, and breeding pairs. Black Falcons are considered rare birds in some parts of Australia due to their patchy distribution.

They are not easily spotted in areas that have been degraded or modified by human activity, making it difficult for researchers to monitor and understand their movements. However, Black Falcons have been observed travelling long distances in search of food or when establishing territories.

A study by Debus in the Simpson Desert showed that Black Falcons travelled over 20km per day in search of food. The birds are active during the day and are known to soar over large distances in search of prey.


Black Falcons typically breed between late winter and early summer, with breeding occurring in favorable weather conditions. They are monogamous and form pairs that mate for life, with breeding pairs frequently seen in the same location year after year.


Black Falcons build their nests on rock ledges, cliffs, or in trees, and they reuse the same nest year after year. They are known to build nests in areas that provide the most protection from predators, including other birds of prey.

They are also known to use existing nests built by other bird species, such as crows and ravens. The nest is constructed with sticks and twigs and is lined with bark and grass.

Eggs and Chicks

The female Black Falcon lays two to three eggs, which are laid at intervals of about two days. The eggs are slightly oval, and the color varies from a cream or pinkish color to a rusty brown with irregular markings, or brown and unmarked.

The eggs take about 32 days to hatch, with both parents taking turns incubating them. The chicks are covered in white down when they hatch and are fed a diet of rodents, small birds, and insects.

The chicks’ eyes are closed initially, but they open after about ten days.

In conclusion, the Black Falcon is a fascinating bird species found all over Australia.

They are adapted to arid and semi-arid zones and occupy a variety of habitats, including man-made structures. They are non-migratory birds, but they do disperse in search of food and breeding pairs are often seen in the same location year after year.

Nesting, eggs, and chicks are known to occur between late winter and early summer. With the knowledge of their habitat, movement, and breeding patterns, suitable conservation measures can be implemented to ensure these magnificent birds of prey remain a fixture of the Australian landscape for future generations to admire and appreciate.

Diet and Foraging

Black Falcons are incredible birds of prey, with excellent hunting skills. They are primarily diurnal and hunt during the day using their keen eyesight.

Their diet is composed primarily of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. They obtain food by several methods, including aerial hunting, ground hunting, and scavenging.


Black Falcons hunt in the air and on the ground, relying on their keen eyesight and flying speed to catch their prey. They typically sit on a perch waiting for a chance to launch a surprise attack on unsuspecting prey when they come into view.

They use their strong talons to grab and hold onto prey while in flight and immobilize the prey with their sharp beaks.


The Black Falcon primarily feeds on small mammals such as rabbits, rodents, and hares. These birds also feed on lizards, snakes, birds, insects, and spiders, depending on prey availability.

Black Falcons are known to target birds that are in flight, such as pigeons and doves. They are also known to take on larger prey that they immobilize with their talons and then eat while perched on a high vantage point.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

To maintain their high metabolic rate, these birds require high-quality food and lots of water, which they obtain from their diet or by drinking water from suitable water sources. Like most birds, Black Falcons are capable of fast and efficient digestion, which enables them to gain energy from food quickly.

Additionally, they are able to maintain their body temperature by regulating blood circulation to their feet and wings, thereby facilitating heat loss when the bird is exposed to warm temperatures.

Sounds and Vocal



Black Falcons are not known to be very vocal birds, but they have a range of vocalizations that they use to communicate. They have a distinctive, high-pitched, cackling call that is mostly heard during their breeding season from July to November.

The male and female birds often call to each other while flying in pairs, signaling their bonding and territorial rights. Black Falcons also communicate with various visual signals, such as feather position, flight behavior, and territorial displays.

In addition to their vocalizations, Black Falcons communicate through body language, such as head nods and wing flaps. They also use sounds associated with hunting, such as the sound of their wings flapping when in pursuit of prey.

During courtship rituals, the male Black Falcon may perform aerial displays, such as climbs and dives, while vocalizing and flapping their wings to attract a mate. In conclusion, Black Falcons are remarkable birds with unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in their environment.

Their diet consists primarily of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects, and they use their keen eyesight and hunting skills to obtain food. Additionally, they communicate through vocalization, body language, and sounds associated with hunting.

With their incredible athleticism and hunting skills, Black Falcons are a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the animal kingdom, and they continue to captivate researchers, bird enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike.


Black Falcons are fascinating birds with a range of behaviors that allow them to survive and thrive in their environment. In this article, we will discuss locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, sexual behavior, and breeding.


Black Falcons are powerful and agile birds that are capable of long, sustained flight. They typically hunt from a perch, but when in pursuit of prey, they utilize their incredible speed and maneuverability to chase down and capture their prey.

When flying, they tend to have a slightly raised head and tail, and they use their wings and tail feathers to make sharp turns and maneuvers while hunting.


Black Falcons practice self-maintenance to stay healthy and preserve their magnificent feathers. These birds preen regularly to maintain their feathers and remove dirt and parasites.

Preening is done using the bird’s beak and involves cleaning its feathers with oil secreted from the uropygial gland located at the base of the tail. They also take dust baths to rid themselves of parasites.

By flapping their wings and shaking their bodies, they create a small pit in the dirt or sand, which they lie in, and use the dust to clean their feathers. Agonistic


Black Falcons are territorial birds and are known to be aggressive towards intruders.

When defending their territory, they engage in agonistic behavior, which includes vocalizations, aerial displays, and physical attacks. The birds engage in territorial displays that include aerial chases and high-speed dives to intimidate intruders.



Black Falcons are monogamous birds that mate for life. During the breeding season, they engage in courtship displays, which include singing, circling, and aerial displays.

The male birds perform aerial displays that include dives, climbs, and high-speed flights to attract a mate. The courtship displays can be intense, with the birds coming close to each other and exchanging food.


Black Falcons breed from July to November in favorable weather conditions. The male and female birds typically form a pair, and the female lays two to three eggs at intervals of around two days.

The eggs are incubated for about 32 days, with both parents taking turns incubating the eggs. The chicks take approximately 40 days to fledge and become independent.

Demography and Populations

Black Falcons are widespread throughout Australia, but they have patchy distributions. In some areas, they are common, while in others, they are rare.

The size of the population is unknown, and there is limited information on their population trends.

Habitat loss due to human activity, such as urbanization, mining, agriculture, and grassland management, poses a significant threat to the Black Falcon’s populations.

Conservation efforts are necessary to ensure that these magnificent birds of prey continue to thrive in the wild. In conclusion, the behavior and life cycle of the Black Falcon are fascinating, with unique adaptations and behaviors that enable them to survive and thrive in a variety of environments.

Their locomotion and self-maintenance behaviors are critical to their survival and well-being, while their courtship and breeding behaviors contribute to the continuation of the species. Understanding the behavior of these birds is crucial for conserving them and ensuring that they remain a fixture of the Australian landscape.

In conclusion, the Black Falcon is a fascinating bird, with unique adaptations and behaviors that enable it to thrive in a range of environments. Its plumage, molts, systematics history, and distribution across Australia have been studied in detail, allowing for valuable insight into the bird’s species evolution.

Its diet and foraging behavior, locomotion, self-maintenance, reproductive behaviors, and territorial displays have all contributed to its ability to survive and thrive in the wild. However, threats posed by habitat loss due to human activity necessitate conservation efforts to ensure the Black Falcon remains a fixture of Australia’s landscape, offering its unique insight into the mysteries of the natural world for generations to come.

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