Sunday, 14 June 2015

Oman's first Eleonora's falcon

Every time I had visited Jarziz farm between April 28th and June 3rd there was at least one Amur falcon present with the exception of May 31st. The most has been four. 

So on Friday afternoon, when Tommy Pedersen, Bruce Hansen and I went there, I was interested in knowing if any were still on passage or even whether a sooty falcon had turned up.

The search for falcons in the main field had a much bigger surprise than a late Amur falcon or a migrant sooty falcon.

perched Eleonora's falcon 

There were two falcons perched on the main pivot bar. The closer one had our attention. From distance Tommy noted that it was heavily streaked underneath and that the ground colour had a pinkish-brown wash. As we walked closer, hobby became our working assumption.

stretching Eleonora's falcon

Yet something was not right. 

Using Tommy's words: "we approached closer, and the bird flew a few meters down the pivot line. It was now apparent that this was an odd-looking Hobby, with very long wings and tail, looking powerful, yet delicate"

The second falcon on the pivot bar was a male Amur falcon which was decidedly smaller.

I suggested partially in jest that it might be an Eleonora’s Falcon. Using Tommy's words again: "There was much smiling and ‘surely impossible’ etc, but it certainly left a nagging feeling. It was almost big enough to be a small Peregrine, but in size only."

another pose of the perched Eleonora's falcon

Tommy got some excellent photos of the bird in flight. I have reproduced one below with thanks to Tommy.

Eleonora's falcon in flight by Tommy Pedersen

Indeed it was this photo which first made us pretty sure it really was an Eleonora's falcon.  Bruce and I were looking through the photos and guide books while Tommy was driving on to the next destination. Then we saw this photo.

The dark underwing coverts contrasting with the pale grey flight feathers and the dark trailing edge are characteristic field marks of a juvenile and immature Eleonora's falcon.

We still have to submit Bird Rarity Report for official confirmation but informal consultations with experts have all concurred with the identification.

We think that the powerful cyclonic weather of recent days may have had an impact on this bird's route. Although recent work with tagged birds show more fly on the Saudi side of the Red Sea than previously thought. It would still be off-course but less so than under the old belief that all flew on the African side.

Mid morning on Saturday I returned to the farm to check if the Eleonora's falcon was still there. I took the opportunity to inspect the much larger Sawnout farm on the way. 

Nearly all the fields on that farm currently have only very low lying crops or appear fallow. This is unattractive to falcons and might explain their current preference for the much smaller Jarziz farm.

A very distant kestrel at Sahalnout farm

All I could see was a single common kestrel but the picture shows the typical landscape there at the moment on many fields.

At Jarziz farm, I found that the Eleonora's falcon was still there. However I concentrated on the other falcons present. If you remember I was still hopeful of a sooty falcon.

immature male Amur falcon

I didn't see one. However there was an immature male Amur falcon which could easily have been the same one as the day before.

perched Amur falcon

Even from a distance its behaviour showed it was an Amur falcon rather than a sooty falcon. It frequently hovers like a kestrel and lesser kestrel whereas a sooty falcon rarely does.

hovering Amur falcon

A little bit surprising was the sighting of a third falcon on the farm. There was a female (presumably immature given the late date) Amur falcon.

When will they stop coming?

female Amur falcon

This one was more heavily streaked than any others I have seen. It also had a very long (but thin) moustache. I have seen so much variation in those two features.

female Amur falcon in flight

I intend to keep visiting the farm over the next few days. Does it hold any more surprises?


  1. Very nice find Rob. Congrats! Send it our way after you are tired of seeing it.

  2. While reading this post I kept thinking that it must be an escapee although I don't know if Arabs even use Eleonora's for falconry. Also the lack of jesses on its legs point to this being a truly wild bird. Congratulations.

  3. Thank you both. Now all I want is a sooty falcon in the same field. This small farm is a magnet for falcons. R