The com­pli­cated lin­eage of fal­cons

Bird Watching (UK) - - Meet The Family -

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

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