Searching for one of the world’s rarest falcons in the rain forests of Amazonia
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
By Tomás Rivas Fuenzalida
8 December, 2022
A young female Orange-breasted Falcon stretches her wings. Photo by Tomás Rivas Fuenzalida.
Among the rarest and least known of the world’s 39 falcon species is the Orange-breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus). With a spotty distribution in the Neotropical region, this is of the few falcon species closely associated with moist tropical forests. Due in part to observed decreases in territory occupancy and productivity in Central America, and ongoing and projected habitat loss in the Amazon basin, this species is listed as Near Threatened globally by the IUCN, and as endangered in many of the countries where it lives.
Orange-breasted Falcon habitat in Peru. Photo by Tomás Rivas Fuenzalida.
Observed population declines of Orange-breasted Falcons prompted The Peregrine Fund to create a captive breeding program to reintroduce new individuals to the wild population in an effort to prevent its extinction in Central America. Aerial and terrestrial surveys in El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama resulted in the discovery of just four breeding pairs in southern Panama, near the border with Colombia. Orange-breasted Falcons in Belize and Guatemala appear to be represented by small, isolated breeding populations of 12 and seven pairs, respectively. Meanwhile, it is speculated that the main global breeding populations are in its wide range in South America, where only a few anecdotal nesting records exist.
Tomás Rivas Fuenzalida with a young male Orange-breasted Falcon. Photo by Katherine Burgos Andrade.
From 2018 up to now, while searching for nesting sites of the endangered Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori), I located 13 Orange-breasted Falcon eyries in the Andean foothills of central Peru (Pasco and Junín regions), representing the largest breeding population of Orange-breasted Falcons yet known for South America or for a single country. However, I recorded successful breeding for only 7 of the 13 pairs, which produced 1-3 fledglings per pair/season, suggesting worryingly low productivity.
An immature male Orange-breasted Falcon who has been given a band (ring) with unique numbers allowing researchers to identify him. Photo by Katherine Burgos Andrade.
With support from IBCP, I am working with Fernando Angulo (Centro de Ornitología y Biodiversidad - CORBIDI researcher) and colleagues to better understand the ecology and threats to this recently discovered and important breeding population of Orange-breasted Falcons in South America. Through searching for nesting pairs and monitoring nests, I expect to obtain useful information on key aspects of its natural history. By collecting new data on its breeding habitat and phenology, occupancy and productivity, density, hunting behavior, and dietary habits, I hope this research will contribute to setting up future long-term monitoring efforts to help conserve this incredible and elusive falcon.
An Orange-breasted Falcon in Peru. Photo by Fernando Angulo.