The complicated lineage of falcons
The taxonomy of raptors is particularly complicated. Falcons (and their New World relatives, caracaras), are not actually closely related to the Accipitriformes (eagles, vultures, kites, buzzards, harriers and hawks) at all. They have a ‘tooth’ on their bill, a notch used to cut the spinal cord of prey, whereas other birds of prey typically kill using the talons. So, who are they related to? Well, rather strangely, parrots. Not closely, but certainly more closely than they are related to other birds of prey. Within the genus Falco, though, species are split into three main groups – the kestrels, the hobbies, and the Peregrine and its relatives. But beware, because while our own roadside hunter the Kestrel can include beauties such as the Dickinson’s Kestrel among its very close relatives; the small, neat and colourful American Kestrel is actually closer to some of the bigger falcons, such as the Aplomado Falcon.
ROADSIDE RAPTOR Kestrels are a familiar sight in the UK, hovering over road verges while hunting rodent prey
BEAUTY The Dickinson’s Kestrel is found in parts of southern Africa WHAT’S IN A NAME? American Kestrels aren’t true kestrels at all