Northern adult female. September. Cataluña. Photo by Eio Ramon. Pp 4-5 and rr 1 have been replaced, typical moult sequence for migrant females.

Identification of northern Peregrine Falcons in the Iberian Peninsula

By Àlex Ollé and Víctor Estrada-Devesa

Across most of the Iberian Peninsula, the local breeding Peregrine ssp is brookei. In the northern third of the peninsula, birds with phenotype very close to Central European birds are found. This is an integrade zone between peregrinus and brookei (Zuberogoitia et al., 2008).

From mid September to May, the local and sedentary brookei population in Iberia is reinforced with northern birds, originating from boreal and arctic areas in north and east Fennoscandia, that migrate through or winter in Iberia. Based on information from tagged birds and ringing recoveries, it seems that northern individuals wintering in Iberia originate mainly from northern Finland, an integrade zone between peregrine and calidus. Possibly Iberia also receives birds originating from arctic Russia, where pure calidus breed. In Catalonia –NE Iberian Peninsula, the wintering population is estimated at around 50 birds (Ollé, Estrada-Devesa & Gil, 2016).

In this post, we will try to add some interesting insights on the separation of brookei from northern birds (calidus or peregrinus/calidus integrades), mostly adults, based on our local experience in winter and on migration. We also present some interesting variation within brookei.

Moult 

In adult birds, moult of flight feathers (mainly primaries) is the key feature to differentiate northern birds from local brookei. In Spain, brookei start laying eggs between late February and early March. Females start moulting earlier than males, in April-May. Males end their moult in October, a moult strategy completely different from northern birds. In September, when the first northern birds arrive back on their wintering grounds, they are in a less advanced moult stage, with only 2-4 central primaries moulted. Moult stage of Nordic birds may depend on egg-laying dates and on their breeding success, with early breeders of failed breeders arriving to Iberia with more advanced moult. Also northern birds show sexual differences in moult. In Catalonia we have noticed that females end their moult at the end of December, while latest males end their moult in April. On average, northern birds moult P10 (the last primary to be moulted) during the second half of February, though we found few individuals that were still growing P10 in April.

Northern adult female. September. Cataluña. Photo by Eio Ramon. Pp 4-5 and rr 1 have been replaced, typical moult sequence for migrant females.

1. Northern adult female. September. Cataluña. Photo by Eio Ramon. Pp 4-5 and rr 1 have been replaced, typical moult sequence for migrant females.

2a

Northern female, adult. January. Cataluña. Photo by Camilo Albert. This bird has old pp9-10, pp 1-2 missing, ss1-2 and other inner ss old and ss3 growing; typical molt sequence of a northern Peregrine.

2 & 3. Northern female, adult. January. Cataluña. Photos by Camilo Albert. This bird has old pp9-10, pp 1-2 missing, ss1-2 and other inner ss old and ss3 growing; typical molt sequence of a northern Peregrine.

Northern adult male. March. Cataluña. Photo by Arnau Soler. Note growing p10. Facial and body patterns typical of a northern bird.

4. Northern adult male. March. Cataluña. Photo by Arnau Soler. Note growing p10. Facial and body patterns typical of a northern bird.

Adult female brookei. May. Cataluña. Photo by Jordi Bermejo. Breeding bird with active moult. Pp4-5 already replaced, together with primary coverts, while s5 is growing.

5. Adult female brookei. May. Cataluña. Photo by Jordi Bermejo. Breeding bird with active moult. Pp4-5 already replaced, together with primary coverts, while s5 is growing.

Adult male brookei . October. Cataluña. Photo by Àlex Ollé. Typical resident brookei with p10 finalizing the early moult

6. Adult male brookei . October. Cataluña. Photo by Àlex Ollé. Typical resident brookei with p10 finalizing the early moult. Note also heavy barring on underparts, thick-based moustachial stripe and limited pale ear coverts.

Facial pattern

Moustachial stripe of northern birds is usually narrower, more pointed and more contrasting than brookei, especially at the base. Ear coverts are very white, almost up to eye level (photos 2, 3, 4, 8 and 7). Some birds can show wider and less contrasting moustachial stripe, but in no case blurred as in brookei (photo 1). The crown is normally pale grey, sometimes with a paler forehead (photos 4, 7 and 15). Conversely, brookei usually show a very wide-based moustachial stripe that links with less contrasting ear coverts, and a uniform dark crown (photos 6, 12, 13 and 16).

Body colours and patterns

Northern birds show a clear white upper breast, normally unmarked. The central breast and upper belly have irregular horizontal bars with little dark spots, that can reach down to the central belly area (photos 1, 2, 4, 13 and 7). Flanks show more regular stripes, but thinner. There is a clear sexual difference in this pattern: males have thinner and irregular markings, while females markings are wider and better pronounced. Base colour is a light and variable pale rosy tone (photos 2 and 13), especially in the central belly.

In brookei the base colour is salmon or cream, though in some individuals, mostly males, it is more restricted to the breast only (photos 6, 9 and 14). In brookei the upper breast usually has small dark spots, especially in females, that are followed by broader and regular horizontal bars, both in the central area and in the flanks (photo 6 and 9).

9. Northern male . April. Catalonia. Photo by Marcel Gil. Typical bird, with clear upper breast and central breast with thin and irregular barring. Note the rose tones to the central belly. Pointed moustachial stripe and very white cheeks.

7. Northern male . April. Catalonia. Photo by Marcel Gil. Typical bird, with clear upper breast and central breast with thin and irregular barring. Note the rose tones to the central belly. Pointed moustachial stripe and very white cheeks.

10. Northern adult female. February. Catalunia. Photo by Víctor Estrada-Devesa. This bird follows is still in active moult in late February, with r5 and p9 still growing and p10 is old. Moult ends in late March or early April. Besides that moult sequence, the bird shows a peregrinus phenotype, probably from boreal northern Fennoscandia. These birds, especially females, have dense and spotted/stripped pattern to underparts. They are separated from brookei by an active moult in winter, they are bigger and have a different head pattern.

8. Northern adult female. February. Catalunia. Photo by Víctor Estrada-Devesa. This bird follows is still in active moult in late February, with r5 and p9 still growing and p10 is old. Moult ends in late March or early April. Besides that moult sequence, the bird shows a peregrinus phenotype, probably from boreal northern Fennoscandia. These birds, especially females, have dense and spotted/stripped pattern to underparts. They are separated from brookei by an active moult in winter, they are bigger and have a different head pattern.

12. Brookei adult female. November. Catalonia. Photo by Miguel Ángel Fuentes. Typical bird, with dense and extensive barring. Upper breats with some small dark spots. Wide moustachial stripe without clear cheeks. Moult already finished.

9. Adult female brookei. November. Catalonia. Photo by Miguel Ángel Fuentes. Typical bird, with dense and extensive barring. Upper breats with some small dark spots. Wide moustachial stripe without clear cheeks. Moult already completed.

Mantle tones

As mentioned above, males are on average paler than females. Northern birds are often paler blueish above, sometimes rather bright depending on light conditions.

15. Northern adult male. March. Catalonia. Photo by Jordi Martí-Aledo. The bluish tone, almost unbarred, is a key feature of northern males. p10 is very fresh, indicating that it was recently replaced.

10. Northern adult male. March. Catalonia. Photo by Jordi Martí-Aledo. The bluish tone, almost unbarred, is a key feature of northern males. p10 is very fresh, indicating that it was recently replaced.

16. Adult brookei. Catalonia. Photo by Àlex Ollé. Dark mantle, slightly paler in the lower back, heavily barred above. Note typical head pattern.

11. Adult brookei. Catalonia. Photo by Àlex Ollé. Dark mantle, slightly paler in the lower back, heavily barred above. Note typical head pattern.

Behaviour and hunting 

Northern birds are often more human-tolerant than local brookei, sometimes even at very close distances (see attached video). 

We found that northern birds often sit on the ground, much more than local brookei, that does not often land on the ground. 

Northern birds are larger and heavier on avergae, and they prey on larger birds, including herons and ducks. Most often local brookei prey on pigeon-sized birds or smaller.

Young ‘Arctic Peregrines’

We believe that some birds wintering in Iberia are ‘Arctic Peregrines’ (calidus). They are huge! Young birds are very brown from above, and often heavily marked below.

7. Apparent northern female, 2cy. January 2016. Catalonia. Photo by Víctor Estrada-Devesa. Possibly an arctic bird, typically brown from above. It was trapped and seen again next winter (see next photo).

12. Apparent northern female, 2cy. January 2016. Catalonia. Photo by Víctor Estrada-Devesa. Possibly an arctic bird, typically brown from above. It was trapped and seen again next winter (see next photo).

8. Northern female, 2cy. November 2016. Catalunia. Photo by Joan Goy. The same bird in the above photo. Thin moustachial stripe and clear ear coverts, clear rose tone to the breast. This bird had a moult stage atypical of northern birds: p1-p9 already moulted and p10 growing. It is possible that this bird (2cy) did not breed, which may explain the early moult.

13. Northern female, 2cy. November 2016. Catalunia. Photo by Joan Goy. The same bird in the above photo. Thin moustachial stripe and clear ear coverts, clear rose tone to the breast. This bird had a moult stage atypical of northern birds: p1-p9 already moulted and p10 growing. It is possible that this bird (2cy) did not breed, which may explain the early moult. Note that young calidus often show very dark coverts, confusingly similar to Lanner and Saker.

Variation in adult brookei

Over the years we have noted some brookei that show features closer to northern birds (peregrinus / calidus). Without full study of all features including moult, they may be misidentified. More study is needed on the amount of variation in brookei.

13. Adult male brookei. February. Alicante, Spain. Photo by Jorge García. Typical brookei head pattern. Breast pattern is reminiscent of northern birds. These features are usually associated with mature birds.

14. Adult male brookei. February. Alicante, Spain. Photo by Jorge García. Typical brookei head pattern. Breast pattern is reminiscent of northern birds. These features are usually associated with mature birds.

14. Adult male brookei . May. Catalonia. Photo by Gabriel de Jesús. This breeding male could be mistaken as a northern bird if seen in winter. It has a grey crown and a pale forehead. Cheeks are White. Underparts barring is irregular, with a light cream base color to the belly rather than to the breast. Nevertheless, it has some typical iberian features: short moustachial stripe with a wide base, striped breast, and cream base color rather than rosy.

15. Adult male brookei . May. Catalonia. Photo by Gabriel de Jesús. This breeding male could be mistaken as a northern bird if seen in winter. It has a grey crown and a pale forehead. Cheeks are White. Underparts barring is irregular, with a light cream base color to the belly rather than to the breast. Nevertheless, it has some typical iberian features: short moustachial stripe with a wide base, striped breast, and cream base color rather than rosy.

 

Acknowledgments 

We thank all the photographers for allowing us to use their photos.

 References 

Ollé. À., Estrada-Devesa, V. & Gil-Velasco, M. 2016. Els falcons d’origen nòrdic Falco peregrinus peregrinus i Falco peregrinus calidus: dues formes força descconegudes a Catalunya. Butlletí del CAC 1: 11-25.

Zuberogoitia, Í., Azkona, A., Zabala, J., Astorkia, L., Castillo, I., Iraeta, A., Martínez, J.A. & Martínez, J.E. 2008. Phenotypic variations of Peregrine Falcon in subspecies distribution border. In: Sielicki, J. & Mizera, T. (Eds.). Peregrine Falcon populations –status and perspectives in the 21st century-. Pp. 295-308. European Peregrine Falcon Working Group.

 

 

 

 

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