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 Red-footed Falcon - Fact File
Red-footed Falcon
Falco vespertinus
Rare visitor (May/July), mainly to eastern England. Breeds in eastern Europe.
Open country.

Male has grey plumage with silvery flight feathers and rusty vent. Female orange/buff underparts. Gregarious when breeding.

28 - 31 cm (11 - 12")

Red-footed Falcon

Browse through the birds of prey plates in a modern Field Guide and the highly distinctive male red footed falcon always stands out. It is a vagrant to Norfolk, mostly in the spring.

News spread rapidly of a red-foot which took up resident on East Ruston Common and we could not resist the opportunity of admiring this wanderer! As we arrived the prize was perched, shrike-like, on overhead cables despite gusty winds. Periodically it darted down to seize prey from the ground after awkwardly leaping and hopping.

At other times persistent hovering was employed. Small and long-winged, the male red-foot was indeed handsome, dressed in slate grey with contrasting patches of rich chestnut under the tail and on the thighs.

As the name implies, the legs and feet and also the eye-ring and basal part of the bill were orange-red.

Flying the flight feathers were silver-grey catching the light and reminiscent of black tern colouring. Viewed from below the wings appeared sooty-black.

While odd red footed falcons put in appearances locally every year, the birds nest regularly no nearer to Britain than Eastern Europe. This pattern makes the unprecedented events of spring 1992 quite remarkable. Over 40 were then identified in Norfolk, together with a further nine in Suffolk.

A vast anti-cyclone had become centred over Scandinavia producing above average temperatures and surges of warm air from the south east. These conditions resulted in many migrants (including red footed falcons, red throated pipits and grey-headed wagtails) all travelling far to the west of normal routes from Africa to northern breeding grounds.

Countries to the immediate east and south east of Britain, including Belgium, Holland and particularly Denmark, played host to massive numbers of these enchanting falcons. Migratory movements of red footed falcons may extend over many weeks. In Eastern European breeding areas nesting may be delayed in the case of those colonies utilising rookeries, by the late fledging of the young rooks.

At all seasons red foots are sociable. Before nesting begins, flocks indulge in spectacular evening display flights. The males circle with the slowest of wingbeats, following endlessly an identical flight path. Shrill calls accompany each display.

Soon after the young have fledged, the red foots congregate and first departure flights commence. The birds winter in the savannahs and plains of southern Africa. Here they lead a nomadic life, following the insect swarms which provide their principal diet

By Ted Ellis

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.