[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Falco alopex | [UK] Fox Kestrel | [FR] Crecerelle renard | [DE] Fuchsfalke | [ES] Cernicalo Zorruno | [NL] Vosvalk | [Authority] Heuglin, 1861 | [copyright picture] Nik Borrow

Fox Kestrel determination

Members of the genus falco are mostly medium-sized falcons, but vary from the large peregrine falcon to the small American kestrel. The wings are long and pointed and used almost continuously during flight. The bill is short, powerful, and with a distinct 'tooth' on each side. Most falcons of this group have a black teardrop-shaped 'mustache' mark on each side of the head. Falcons are fastflying birds of open country and are famous for attaining high speeds as they dive from high altitudes to knock birds out of the air.

copyright: Martin Kennewell

Substantially larger than most other kestrel species, the fox kestrel possesses well developed, long, pointed wings and an elongated tail. The chestnut plumage contrasts with conspicuous broad black streaks on the back and wings, and a rufous coloured tail with faint black banding. The throat, flanks and undersides of the wings are unstreaked, with pale silvery-white bases, and the legs are long with short yellow toes. The eyes of the fox kestrel are pale brown and surrounded by a ring of yellow skin. In common with most kestrels, the two sexes are very similar, but juveniles can be distinguished by heavier streaking and broader black barring on the tail, blue-grey facial skin and yellow-green legs.

Prefers semi-desert and savanna areas in the Sahel and northeastern Africa, but moves south into moister Guinea savannas and is a vagrant to eastern Africa grasslands. In Uganda, it is confined to dry thickets and Acacia savanna, particularly where there are rocky outcrops and inselbergs. In Sudan, it occurs in mountainous areas with cliffs and isolated rocky outcrops and in Togo and Ghana, it also is found in areas of escarpments and rocky hills.

Feeds mainly on small ground vertebrates (lizards, small mammals, and birds) and insects, which it captures by descending to the ground from a perch. Also catches insects on the wing, especially around grassland fires. It is not known to hoover like most kestrels do.

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be small, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Although widespread and abundant, specific threats to the fox kestrel are unclear. However, the fox kestrel's breeding range is restricted to rocky hills, and although this habitat is more resistant to degradation than others, subtle changes to this habitat could impact the population, especially if surrounding hunting habitats are degraded. Decreases in fox kestrel numbers have been observed outside of national parks in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali with declines attributed to human population growth, habitat degradation and ecosystem impoverishment. However, agricultural pesticides, which accumulate in many African birds of prey, do not appear to be impacting fox kestrel populations, as they are only used in a limited way throughout the species? range.

The breeding season varies between localities, but egg laying peaks between March and May. Nests are constructed on rock ledges and in cavities, often close to other nests in loose colonies of 20 to 25 pairs. Two to three eggs are laid and incubated by the female. It is not known to use the old nests of other species.

Sedentary in some intermediate areas, but generally moves South from drier areas across whole range in dry season (Oct-Mar) to attend bush fires, then North with rains to nest on rocky outcrops; some vagrants further South into Kenya, North East Tanzania and North East Zaire in Sept-Feb after breeding. Population breeding furthest South, in Turkana Valley (Kenya), may be resident.

Range: Africa : Central, West. Endemic to the Sahel ecoregion of Africa, the fox kestrel is distributed from Gambia and Guinea in West Africa, across the continent, to Eritrea and Ethiopia in East Africa