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Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Common Kestrel ( Falco tinnunculus )

Row : Land vertebrates (Tetrapoda)
without rank: Amniotes (Amniota)
Class : Birds (aves)
Subclass : New-jawed birds (Neognathae)
Order : Hawkish
Family : Hawkish
Scientific name of the  order
Sharpe , 1874
Scientific name of the  family
Vigors , 1824

The falcon-like (Falconidae) are an almost worldwide occurring family and order (Falconiformes) of medium-sized birds . The family comprises 10–12 genera and 67 species . Well-known species that are native to Germany and Central Europe are the kestrel ( Falco tinnunculus ), the tree falcon ( Falco subbuteo ) and the peregrine falcon ( Falco peregrinus ).


Falconies live on all continents with the exception of Antarctica and are only missing in the glaciated interior of Greenland , other arctic islands such as Spitsbergen , Franz Joseph Land , the north island of Novaya Zemlya , the Sedov Islands , in the central rainforest of the Congo Basin and on some oceanic islands . In general, the larger species live in rather cold or temperate climates, while the smaller species are more tropical. The greatest biodiversity is found in Central and South America , where the most common salmon and forest falcons (Herpetotherinae) and vulture falcons (Polyborinae) are found, and in Africa , where there are 17 breeding species of the genus Falco .


Portrait of a female kestrel

Falconies have small, lightweight bodies and, with the exception of the karakaras, short necks. The chest muscles, which are important for flight, make up between 12 and 20% (in peregrine falcons ) of body weight. The flight silhouette of the animals shows long, sickle-shaped wings, mostly without the "fingering" that is typical for birds of prey . The plumage of the falcon-like is brown, nut-colored, gray, black or white, mostly banded or blotchy and with a few exceptions, e.g. B. the yellow-throated caracara ( Daptrius ater ), not shiny. Melanistic or purely reddish-brown morphs occur in some forest falcons . Tropical species often have more showy plumage than those from temperate regions. Falcons usually change their plumage in an annual full moult , during which the small and large plumage are completely replaced. It usually takes place during the breeding season. The feathers are replaced one by one in a specific order that is characteristic of the family. It begins on both wings with the fourth wing of the hand, seen from the inside, and continues from then on on both sides one after the other. The change of plumage on the tail also begins on the inner pair of feathers. The eye color of most falconies is brown, bare head, dark circles and the legs are often yellow, sometimes gray. The nostrils are surrounded by a fleshy zone and are round, oval, with the Karakaras also slit-shaped. The beak is small, the upper beak bent downwards like a bird of prey. In contrast to the hawk-like who kill their prey with their fangs, falcons use their beak to do so. Small beaks and strong jaw muscles therefore enable a powerful bite. The Gelbkehlkarakara ( Daptrius ater ) and the Bergkarakaras ( Phalcoboenus ) who tend to omnivorous diet, have little curved, almost like chicken beaks.

The smallest falcons, the finch falcon ( Microhierax fringillarius ) and the white-headed falcon ( Microhierax latifrons ), weigh only 35 grams and reach wing lengths of 89 to 105 mm. The largest, the gyrfalcon ( Falco rusticolus ) living in the far north , weighs between 1.15 and 1.7 kg and has wingspans between one and 1.31 meters.

External system

As carnivorous birds with a typical body and beak shape, falconies were traditionally assigned to the order of birds of prey . The type genus of this traditional order is Falco ( falcon ), and its scientific name is Falconiformes. It contained, in addition to the falcon-like (Falconidae), the hawk-like (Accipitridae), the osprey (only genus of the family Pandionidae), the secretary (only genus of the family Sagittariidae) and the New World vulture (Cathartidae).

More recent phylogenetic studies based on DNA , however, came to the conclusion that the falcon-like are more closely related to the parrots (Psittaciformes) and passerines (Passeriformes) than to the other families of traditional birds of prey. The typical raptor features of the falcon-like would have arisen convergent . The families of predatory birds traditionally added to the Falconiformes have therefore been separated from this taxon and now form a separate group. The falcon-like group, with the type genus Falco , keeps the scientific name Falconiformes and only contains the family Falconidae. The other "birds of prey" get the new scientific name Accipitriformes after the genus of the hawks and sparrowhawks ( Accipiter ).

The following cladogram shows the likely family relationships :

  "Higher Land Birds"  

 Birds of prey (Accipitriformes)


 Owls (Strigiformes)


 Mouse birds (Coliiformes)


 Rocks  (Coraciiformes) and relatives


 Seriemas (Cariamiformes)


 Falk-like (falconiformes)


 Parrots (Psittaciformes)


 Passerines (Passeriformes)

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Internal system

The falcon-like are divided into two, three or four subfamilies, depending on the author. There is broad consensus that the South American vulture falcons (Polyborinae) are separated from the other falcon-like species as a separate subfamily.

Subfamily laughing falcons and forest falcons (Herpetotherinae)

Subfamily vulture falcons (Karakaras) (Polyborinae)

Subfamily real falcons (Falconinae)

Subfamily pygmy falcon (Polihieracinae)

Tribal history

The first evidence of the family in the form of fragmentary remains of a bird that was smaller than the actual pygmy falcon ( Microhierax ) is from the lower Eocene of England 55 million years ago. A fossil from France , from the Upper Eocene 36 million years ago , is better documented . The first evidence from North and South America is from the Miocene , about 23 million years ago. Among them is Badiostes , an early representative of the Karakaras and also a member of the large genus Falco . Since all Falco species are closely related to one another, rapid adaptive radiation is assumed in the Pliocene and Pleistocene . In the Pleistocene, 20 recent species can be detected.



  • CM White, PD Olsen, LF Kiff: Family Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras). In: Josep del Hoyo et al .: Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guinea Fowl. Lynx Edicions, 1994, ISBN 84-87334-15-6 , pp. 216-247.
  • Ferguson-Lees & Christie: The birds of prey of the world (German by Volker Dierschke and Jochen Dierschke). Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-440-11509-1
  • Theodor Mebs : Birds of prey in Europe. Biology - population conditions - population threat. Franckh-Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-440-06838-2
  • Benny Génsbøl, Walther Thiede: Birds of prey. All European species, identifiers, flight images, biology, distribution, endangerment, population development. BLV Verlag, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-405-14386-1
  • Carole S. Griffiths, George F. Barrowclough, Jeff G. Groth & Lisa Mertz: Phylogeny of the Falconidae (Aves): a comparison of the efficacy of morphological, mitochondrial, and nuclear data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 32 (2004) 101-109, doi : 10.1016 / j.ympev.2003.11.019

Individual evidence

  1. James Ferguson-Lees, David Christie: The birds of prey of the world. 1st edition (edited in German by Volker and Jochen Dierschke). Franckh-Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-440-11509-1
  2. CM White et al. (1994), p. 217
  3. CM White et al. (1994), p. 221.
  4. CM White et al. (1994), p. 220.
  5. Per G. P. Ericson, Cajsa L. Anderson, Tom Britton, Andrzej Elzanowski, Ulf S. Johansson, Mari Källersjö, Jan I. Ohlson, Thomas J. Parsons, Dario Zuccon, Gerald Mayr: Diversification of Neoaves: integration of molecular sequence data and fossils. Biology Letters, Vol. 2, No. 4, 2006, pp. 543-547, doi : 10.1098 / rsbl.2006.0523 (alternative download at senckenberg.de ( memento of the original from March 25, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this note. ) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.senckenberg.de
  6. SJ Hackett, RT Kimball, S. Reddy, RCK Bowie, EL Braun, MJ Braun, JL Chojnowski, WA Cox, K.-L. Han, J. Harshman, C. Huddleston, BD Marks, KJ Miglia, WS Moore, FH Sheldon, DW Steadman, CC Witt and T. Yuri: A Phylogenomic Study of Birds Reveals Their Evolutionary History. Science. Vol. 320 (No. 5884), 2008, pp. 1763–1768 doi : 10.1126 / science.1157704
  7. ^ Frank Gill, Minturn Wright: BIRDS OF THE WORLD Recommended English Names. Princeton University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-7136-7904-2
  8. WorldBirdNames.org IOC World Bird List ( Memento of the original from December 22, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.worldbirdnames.org
  9. AOU Committee on Classification and Nomenclature (North & Middle America) Proposals 2008-C (PDF; 109 kB)
  10. Storrs L. Olson: A New Species of Large, Terrestrial Caracara from Holocene Deposits in Southern Jamaica (Aves: Falconidae). Journal of Raptor Research. Vol. 42, No. 4, 2008, pp. 265-272, doi : 10.3356 / JRR-08-18.1
  11. CM White et al. (1994), p. 216

Web links

Commons : Hawk-like  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
  • Animal Diversity Web: Kirschbaum, K. 2004. Falconidae