Friday, July 16, 2004

Eleonora’s Falcon, Sardinia, Italy (by M. Mendi)

This is one of the most impressive and rare birds of the Falconidae family who comes to breed in Mediterranean islands in late autumn (in contrast to all other birds that breed in spring).
The male and female are alike in this falcon, but there are two phases: a dark and a light one. In the dark phase it is a dark slate-grey bird appearing black when it flies. In the pale phase, the upper parts are slate, the chin and throat are white with a black patch below the eye. The breast is slightly streaked with black, the lower breast and abdomen rufous, heavily streaked with slateblack. The legs are olive green and the eyes are dark black.
Eleonora's Falcon is a species which is especially found of islands and is less often encountered on the mainland. It comes in April and stays until November. Clefts and holes in inaccessible cliffs are its choice for a nest, a number of pairs breeding in the same cliffs. The clutch is of two to three eggs, incubation lasting twenty-eight days and the fledging period about thirty-five days. The reason they breed in September is that at that time of the year large numbers of migratory birds pass over the Mediterranean and being exhausted after the long journey, they are an easy prey to catch.
The way Eleonora's Falcons hunt is quite impressive: as a rule three falcons fly over the sea at a short distance from the coast, gliding at three different heights: one is hovering over the waves, a second one high up and above the coast cliffs and a third one somewhere in between leaving little chance for their prey to escape. They plummet down or shoot up catching the birds in the air. Their flight is fast and powerful, allowing them to quickly change direction.


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