Taxonomic status of the Barbary Falcon

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!

Update (2016):

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.

Update (2016):

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.

References:

  • 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
Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides), Rissani, Morocco, April 2015 (David Walsh)
Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides), Rissani, Morocco, April 2015 (David Walsh)

6 thoughts on “Taxonomic status of the Barbary Falcon”

  1. Falconry Morocco

    Genetic studies show no more variations from the Barbary than any other peregrines subspecies do in relation to the nominal F. p. peregrinus.

    Thus we cannot speak of “hybrid” between a Barbary and a peregrine. We can use the term “cross” because it is proven by genetics that the variation is less than 0,3 % between all peregrines subspecies including the Barbary.
    The idea that the typical taxon of the Barbary is a red-headed bird is a fantasy, and ornithological illustrations have emphasized this idea.

    It is already hard enough to identify a peregrine subspecies in captivity, so to submit a hypothesis from photographs is pointless.

    Barbary falcons have a lot of individual and regional variations in sizes and color morphs. From absolute black nape, wide moustaches and helmet to reddish nape, thin moustaches and almost red top of the head color pattern.
    Contrasts in colors, within the same clutch vary from dark brown reddish to light pale on light brown spots in juveniles. Size varies to my experience from 370 gr for males and 430 gr for females (juveniles, Mirleft, Morocco 1995) to 760 gr and 800 gr juvenile female (Sidi Kaouki, Morocco).

    Parents’ sizes seem to be decisive in the offspring’s shapes and weight. Shape in flight and wing beats frequency is more decisive in the identification in opposition to F. p. minor (sub-Saharan Africa, occasionally occurring in Morocco) and F. p. calidus.
    F. p. minor have slower beat with prominent shoulders with head and neck “inside”.
    F. p. calidus have more ample wing beats that seem slower, similar to a butterfly moves while being faster in pure speed.

    By the red cliffs north of Sidi Ifni, most pairs are totally obviously reddish as the cliffs they nest in.
    As for the mention to falconers escaped birds, the local Moroccan falconers employ mainly Barbary falcons (juveniles caught in summer). Some of their birds trapped in late autumn happen to be F. p. brookei chasing pigeons in rural villages.

    It seems that most juvenile Barbary falcons are wanderers and very likely to follow turtle doves migration further south. In fact, when the turtle doves disappear from the Atlantic shores in October, one can hardly find a juvenile Barbary after this period.

    One more fact to consider: a coastal male Barbary can courtship a female Barbary from inland and mate, even their color patterns seems to differ totally.

    And as a field observation, it was witnessed once, an adult male mated with a juvenile female probably in her second year start.

    Theories and illustrations from ornithology “bibles” are one theory, the reality of the field is yet another.
    The Barbary VS peregrine theory is very similar to the Falco kreyenborgi VS Falco p. cassini theory. The MYTH vanished when biologists have discovered both dark morph and pale morph in the same clutch of some regular F. p. cassini in Patagonia. Finally, “Falco kreyenborgi” was no more a separate species, not even a separate subspecies, but just a genetic variation of the regular F. p. cassini.

    The need for publication within the competitive conservationist and research community is becoming a conflict of interest to the genuine study of nature and wildlife.

    Salamualleikum.

  2. Falconry Morocco

    I like to add : those wide moustachial stripes, the proportion of lenght and tips of wings precisely meeting the tail is typical of a male individual. But it is very hard to make a statement from a photograph, only a guess.

  3. Interesting comments though full of falconry common believings ! PS: the scientific name is ALWAYS written not in capital, so it would be F. p. calidus and not Calidus !

    However, 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 follow a cline gradient from Morocco to Middle East and then Far East of dark Peregrine-like birds to very pale, typically widely rusty headed birds to the east ! (Falconry Morocco correctly commented about the huge variability within the same clutch of juveniles).

    The bird in the photos 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 cheeck-patch.

    However, more should be done about Peregrines taxa in N Africa, chiefly the coastal birds, with an un-named, un-described taxon I am working on !!

    1. MaghrebOrnitho

      Thank you very much for your comment Andrea.

      p.s. I edited the scientific names in the comment of ‘Falconry Morocco’, so they are now all in lower letters and italics.

    2. Falconry Morocco

      Please clarify about "Falconry common beliefs" in relation to genetic research and studies of the Peregrines Populations of the World (Dr. Tom Cade PhD. and falconer) and the peregrine Fund (Conservationists and Falconers as well).
      Thank you.

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