Falco alopex, more commonly known as the fox kestrel, is a species of kestrel native to the Ethiopian region of the planet (“Falco alopex”). The species resides in a narrow sub-Saharan band that lies between the 1˚N latitude line and 17˚N latitude line (Christie and Ferguson-Lees, 2001). This band spans multiple countries from Gambia and Guinea on the western half of the continent to Ethiopia and Eritrea on the eastern side (“Falco alopex”). Populations in the inner area of the range are sedentary while populations that live closer to the boundaries of the range may migrate south during the dry season and north during the rainy season (“Fox kestrel fact file”, 2018). Occasionally, individuals that live on the outskirts of the species’ range will migrate southwards to Kenya after the end of the breeding season (Christie and Ferguson-Lees, 2001). ("Falco alopex", 2016; "Fox kestrel fact file", 2010; Christie and Ferguson-Lees, 2001)
Falco alopex is native to the semi-desert and savanna areas of sub-Saharan Africa (“Fox kestrel fact file”, 2018). Along the southern border of their geographic range, some members of the species may be found in wetter areas or even dwelling in open grasslands (Rondaeu and van Zyl, 2011). Regardless of geographic location, Falco alopex favors rocky cliffs, outcroppings on the edge of the savanna, and desert as living areas and will only build nests in these locations (Bouglouan, 2011). (Bouglouan, 2011; "Fox kestrel fact file", 2010; Rondaeu and van Zyl, 2011)
- Range elevation
- 0 to 2,200 m
- 0.00 to ft
Male and female Falco alopex are similar in appearance, though the females are slightly larger in size (Bouglouan, 2011). The plumage of an adult Falco alopex ranges from chestnut brown to reddish brown and covers its entire body. This distinctive rusty coloration has earned the species its common name of fox kestrel and differentiates them from other kestrels, which tend to be more pale and dark brown in color (Christie and Ferguson-Lees, 2001). Most of the plumage is streaked with black, and black banding appears on their tail feathers (Sinclair, 2009). Only the throat, the flanks and the undersides of the wings possess no banding or streaks and have pale silver-white bases (Sinclair, 2009). The beak is black and hook-shaped with a grey base and yellow cere, which matches the skin surrounding its eyes (Bouglouan, 2011). The eyes themselves are pale brown in color. The legs of Falco alopex are long, bald, and yellow in color with short yellow toes (Bouglouan, 2011). Juveniles possess similar plumage to adults but with heavier streaking and barring of the feathers, along with blue-grey facial skin and yellow-green legs (“Fox kestrel fact file”, 2010). ("Fox kestrel fact file", 2010; Bouglouan, 2011; Christie and Ferguson-Lees, 2001; Sinclair, 2009)
- Range mass
- 250 to 300 g
- 8.81 to 10.57 oz
- Range length
- 35 to 39 cm
- 13.78 to 15.35 in
- Range wingspan
- 75 to 88 cm
- 29.53 to 34.65 in
Falco alopex engages in a simple mating ritual in which a male and female pair will soar and call close to the nesting area (Bouglouan 2011). Mating, breeding, and nesting activities can occur in colonies of 20 to 25 individuals ("Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex) 2018). ("Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex)", 2018; Bouglouan, 2011; Rondaeu and van Zyl, 2011)
The breeding season of Falco alopex varies slightly by location, but after mating occurs nests are built by the parents in rocky cliffs and outcroppings ("Fox kestrel fact file" 2010) in loose colonies consisting of 20 to 25 breeding pairs (Bouglouan 2011). The female lays two to three eggs during this time (Bouglouan 2011). ("Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex)", 2018; "Fox kestrel fact file", 2010; Bouglouan, 2011)
- Breeding interval
- Falco alopex breed yearly in late spring ("Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex) 2018)
- Breeding season
- March to May, varies locally (Bouglouan 2011)
- Range eggs per season
- 2 to 3
A female Falco alopex incubates eggs until they hatch while the male delivers food to the female and assists in protecting the nest (Bouglouan 2011). After hatching, the females raise the young to maturity, after which the young live relatively solitary lifestyles ("Fox kestrel fact file" 2010). ("Fox kestrel fact file", 2010; Bouglouan, 2011)
Little information is available regarding the exact lifespan of Falco alopex, but it is closely related to the American kestrel (Bouglouan 2011), which has a lifespan of less than five years in the wild (Christie and Ferguson-Lees 2001). (Bouglouan, 2011; Christie and Ferguson-Lees, 2001)
- Typical lifespan
- 0 to 5 years
Falco alopex is a solitary species, only coming together in loosely organized colonies of 20 to 25 individuals during the breeding season (Bouglouan 2011). During the rest of the year, fox kestrels spend most of their time hunting their prey by perching at a vantage point and using their keen eyesight to spot movement ("Fox kestrel fact file" 2010). Like other species of kestrel, Falco alopex is capable of hovering for short periods of time while hunting, though this behavior is observed less in this species than in other varieties of kestrel (The Raptor Research Foundation and Inc 2002). Another method of predation that Falco alopex engages in is waiting at the edges of grass fires to catch insects and other small creatures driven out of hiding by the flames (Bouglouan 2011). ("Fox kestrel fact file", 2010; Bouglouan, 2011; "The Fox Kestrel Hovers", 2002)
Falco alopex most often remain in one limited area within their geographic range, though some vagrant populations on the edges of the geographic range do migrate during the dry and wet seasons (Bouglouan 2011). ("Fox kestrel fact file", 2010; Bouglouan, 2011)
Communication and Perception
Like most raptors, Falco alopex relies mainly on its excellent eyesight to perceive the world around it (Bouglouan, 2011). This heightened visual sense is vital to the survival of the species as the favored prey of fox kestrels are small, ground-dwelling vertebrates, many of which have evolved some form of camouflage (Rondaeu and van Zyl, 2011). Falco alopex does not often vocalize; but they do become noisy during the breeding season, performing a high-pitched screech (Bouglouan, 2011). (Bouglouan, 2011; Rondaeu and van Zyl, 2011)
Falco alopex is carnivorous and mainly feeds on small vertebrates and insects (Rondaeu and van Zyl, 2011). Their prey ranges from lizards, small mammals, and other birds to insects, which Falco alopex often catches mid-flight (Bouglouan, 2011). Falco alopex can be observed feeding on insects more often during grass fires, as it waits near the edge of the fire and catches any large insects that are driven out of the grass by the flames (Kemp and Kemp, 2001). (Bouglouan, 2011; Kemp and Kemp, 2001; Rondaeu and van Zyl, 2011)
Falco alopex has no natural predators in its range, as the few animals large enough to consume a fox kestrel are not capable of catching one due to species’ ability to fly ("Fox kestrel fact file"). ("Fox kestrel fact file", 2010)
There is a lack of extensive research regarding the impact of Falco alopex on its community, but it has the habits of a keystone species as it is a significant predator for many small reptiles, mammals, and birds (Bouglouan, 2011). ("Fox kestrel fact file", 2010)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Falco alopex is not sold for its body parts or as a pet ("Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex)", 2018). Its economic importance lies in its diet of small rodents and insects. These creatures are often harmful to crops, so Falco alopex positively impacts humans by controlling the pest population. ("Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex)", 2018; Bouglouan, 2011)
According to the IUCN red list, Falco alopex is a species of least concern ("Falco alopex", 2016). Though they do suffer slightly from human infringement on their habitat, especially if this invasion results in degradation of the species’ hunting areas ("Fox kestrel fact file", 2010). Overall, though many populations of raptors in West Africa are declining, Falco alopex is not at risk of a significant population decline in the foreseeable future (Thiollay, 2009). ("Falco alopex", 2016; "Fox kestrel fact file", 2010; Thiollay, 2009)
Megan Oppy (author), Colorado State University, Peter Leipzig (editor), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.
uses sound to communicate
- bilateral symmetry
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
- desert or dunes
in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
- female parental care
parental care is carried out by females
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
- keystone species
a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
- native range
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
- seasonal breeding
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
- tropical savanna and grassland
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
- temperate grassland
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
uses sight to communicate
- young precocial
young are relatively well-developed when born
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February 08, 2018
2018. "Fox Kestrel (Falco alopex)" (On-line). Planet of Birds.
March 01, 2018
2010. "Fox kestrel fact file"
(On-line). Wildscreen Arkive.
February 08, 2018
The Raptor Research Foundation, Inc. 2002. "The Fox Kestrel Hovers"
February 08, 2018
Bouglouan, N. 2011. "Fox Kestrel" (On-line). Oiseaux Birds.
February 08, 2018
Christie, D., J. Ferguson-Lees. 2001. Raptors of the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Kemp, A., M. Kemp. 2001. Sasol Birds of Prey of Africa and its Islands. South Africa: Penguin Random House.
Rondaeu, G., A. van Zyl. 2011. "Fox Kestrel" (On-line). Global Raptor Information Network.
February 08, 2018
Sinclair, I. 2009. Birds of Southern Africa: Pocket Guide. South Africa: Struik Nature.
Thiollay, J. 2009. Raptor population decline in West Africa. Ostrich, 78: 405-413.
February 08, 2018