Below is a discussion about the identification of an interesting falcon observed in Morocco, and an update about the taxonomic status of the Barbary Falcon.
Barbary Falcon with some Peregrine characteristics
This falcon was photographed on the cliffs where the Barbary Falcons are known to breed near Rissani, Morocco, in mid-April 2015 by David Walsh.
The identification of this interesting bird is challenging because it presents the characteristics of both Barbary and Peregrine falcons. Is it an atypical Barbary Falcon with dark head/forehead and large moustaches? Or is it a hybrid between the Barbary and Peregrine (whatever you call them, species or subspecies)? If it’s a hybrid, could it be of natural origin, or one of the parents originated from lost falconers’ birds? (see the article of Rodríguez et al (2011) about the Barbary Falcon plumage variation in the Canary Islands).
Thanks David for sending this interesting bird!
Dick Forsman kindly commented the following about this bird:
To me this looks like a good Barbary, although I cannot see the details of the barring of breast and flanks, but the overall rich colour of the underparts looks OK for Barbary. Some Barbary’s have a Peregrine-like dark head, like this bird, and this is perfectly OK and is just part of the normal variation in Barbary. Many of the birds I have seen in the Middle East look like this bird, and there are no Peregrines in those areas to complicate the matter, as is the case in Morocco.
Andrea Corso also kindly commented in the comments section below:
…. this is a nice bird that indeed as Dick commented is well among the variability spectrum of Barbary falcon, that in general and on average (but correctly Falconry Morocco commented about the huge variability within the same clutch of juv.) follow a cline gradient from Morocco to Middle East and then Far East of dark Peregrine-like birds to very paler, typically widely rusty headed birds to the east !
The bird in the photo is easily eliminated being not a calidus due to the tail-tip/wing-tip ratio (and indeed this is pro adult male), as calidus of any sex will have much longer tail projection, cleaner white underparts etc. Pro Barbary is also the very wide and high pale cheek-patch.
However, more should be done about Peregrine taxa in North Africa, chiefly the coastal birds, with an un-named, un-described taxon I am working on !!
See also the comment of ‘Falconry Morocco’ in the comments section below. As his pseudo-name suggest, he is a falconer, but he is very knowledgeable about the falcons breeding in Morocco (and elsewhere) and their individual variations.
Taxonomic status of the Barbary Falcon
The taxonomic treatment of the Barbary Falcon has been unstable over the years: sometimes considered as a full separate species (Falco pelegrinoides) and sometimes considered as a subspecies of Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus pelegrinoides).
Even today, there is no consensus about its taxonomic status. However, there is mounting evidence (both from morphological observations as well as genetic studies) that the Barbary Falcon should be considered as a subspecies of the Peregrine Falcon.
Here are some important updates concerning this subject:
The Clements Checklist (v 2016) as used in eBird has lumped the Barbary Falcon with the Peregrine based on the works of White et al. (2013a, 2013b).
Dick Forsman in his book about the ‘Flight Identification of Raptors’ also treated the Barbary as a subspecies of the Peregrine Falcon. Here is a quote from the book:
Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinus pelegrinoides)
Variation … The considerable individual variation found within the Moroccan and Canarian populations possibly indicates a large-scale exchange of genes between Peregrine and Barbary. The disputed ‘atlantis‘ Peregrines from the Moroccan Atlantic coast (Schollaert & Willem 2000) are perhaps best seen as a stable hybrid population between Barbary and Peregrine. Pending further genetic studies and given the extensive apparent hybridisation with Peregrine, Barbary Falcon is here treated as a subspecies of Peregrine.
The IOC Checklist still treating the Barbary Falcon as a separate species.
- Forsman, D. 2016. Flight Identification of Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Bloomsbury Publishing, London.
- Schollaert, V. & Willem, G. 2000. Taxonomy of the Peregrine Falco peregrinus / Barbary Falcon F. (peregrinus) pelegrinoides complex in Morocco. ABC Bull. 7: 101–103.
- White, C.M., Cade, T.J. & Enderson, J.H. 2013a. Peregrine Falcons of the world. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- White, C.M., Sonsthagen, S.A., Sage, G.K., Anderson, C. & Talbot, S.L., 2013b. Genetic relationships among some subspecies of the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus L.), inferred from mitochondrial DNA control-region sequences. Auk 130: 78-87. doi: 10.1525/auk.2012.11173