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New Zealand falcon

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Simon Fraser Admissions. Family: Falconidae. New Zealand status: Endemic. Conservation status: Recovering. Geographical variation: A single variable species divided into three forms: bush falcon, smallest and darkest, from North Island and north-west South Island; eastern falcon, largest and lightest, from eastern and central South Island; southern falcon, intermediate in size and colour, from Fiordland, Stewart Island and Auckland Island.

New Zealand falcon. East Otago, January The New Zealand falcon is a magpie-sized raptor that feeds predominantly on live prey. Adapted to hunt within the dense New Zealand forests they are also found in more open habitats such as tussocklands and roughly grazed hill country. More recently they have been discovered breeding in exotic pine plantations. Laying their eggs in simple scrapes they can nest in a variety of locations, from within the epiphytes that grow in large trees, to on the ground under small rocky outcrops. Where they nest on the ground they are well known for attacking intruders, including humans, with aggressive dive-bombing strikes to the head.

Often seen hunting small passerines in dramatic chases, they have long pointed wings and a long tail. Wings and tail open out into a more rounded shape when soaring. When perched they have an upside-down teardrop shaped silhouette. Males are approximately a third smaller than females. All ages have a dark eye and a distinct moustache or malar stripe running from the back of a strongly hooked bill vertically down the face.

Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus

Adults have yellow legs, eye-ring and cere, are largely dark brown on the back, have a streaked cream breast and a rufous under tail and thighs. Recent fledglings and juveniles are more uniformly dark brown, lacking the defined cream streaks on the breast, and their legs, eye-ring and cere are blue-grey. Similar species: Sometimes confused with the swamp harrier that is commonly seen feeding on road-kill, the falcon very rarely feeds on carrion, and is smaller. Falcons are more often seen in active chasing flights rather than the lazy quartering flights typical of the harrier.

Long-tailed cuckoo also have long pointed wings, a long tail and rapid wing beats. However falcons have a deeper wing, their tail is not quite as pronounced and their flight is less erratic. The falcon could also be confused with vagrant raptors that occasionally arrive in New Zealand from Australia.

The black kite is larger roughly the size of a harrier and has a distinctive forked tail.

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The nankeen kestrel is more delicate, has a cinnamon brown back, long slender wings and a habit of hovering which our falcon does not. The black falcon is more uniformly sooty black and has far longer more pointed wings that when folded almost reach the end of the tail. Widely distributed on both main islands where suitable habitat occurs. Sparse breeder north of a line between northern Taranaki and Rotorua. Absent from Northland.

Although rare on Stewart Island, populations extend as far south as the Auckland Islands. Was once present on the Chatham Islands. Falcons breed in a wide variety of habitats from the coast to above the tree line, including native podocarp and beech forest, tussocklands, roughly grazed hill country and pine forest.

They may also breed in more intensively farmed areas where suitable bush remnants remain. Falcons have recently been encouraged to breed in vineyards in the Marlborough region. Although absent as breeders from most urban and intensive agricultural landscapes, juveniles can be observed almost anywhere in New Zealand during winter as they disperse from their natal territories. Clearance of native vegetation and the intensification of land-use practices have significantly reduced the amount of habitat suitable for breeding.

Habitat degradation and modification has also affected prey populations. Cats and mustelids have been filmed preying on adults and chicks.


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Pigs and possums take eggs and chicks, and hedgehogs may do so in some areas. Electrocution is a major problem in areas where many un-insulated power lines occur. This program involved the release of captive-reared peregrines with the hope that these birds would re-colonize their historic breeding range. Between and , over young falcons were released throughout the East by regional peregrine falcon recovery teams.

From to approximately of those falcons were released in Virginia. These birds were released into the wild using a management technique referred to as hacking. Shenandoah National Park is home to a peregrine falcon restoration program. Learn more about peregrine falcon restoration in Shenandoah. Both sexes have the same coloration. Chicks are covered with a soft, white down. Brownish feathers appear in three to five weeks. In the first year, they are a chocolate brown with lighter streaks on the belly. Adults have slate blue backs and white with black speckling and salmon hues on the breast.

Both sexes have distinctive black "side burns" under each eye. Adult peregrines are about the size of a crow with wings that can span more than three feet. As with many raptors, females are larger than males. At birth, chicks weigh about 1. They reach nearly full size after only seven weeks. Peregrines generally begin breeding around 3 years of age.

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The male mating ritual includes aerial acrobatics to attract the attention of females. Often the male will kill a bird and present it to the female. Sometimes the male, while flying above the female, will drop his prey, which is caught by the female. The female lays a clutch of three to five eggs each spring.