Aplomado Falcon, Falco femoralis

The Aplomado Falcon, (Falco femoralis), is a species of bird of prey of Central and South America. It is found from Northern Mexico and Trinidad to southern South America, although it has been exterminated in many areas of its range, including almost all of northern and central Mexico. Its widest range is found in South America, except for the deep interior of the Amazon Basin. Its habitat is dry grassland, savannah, and marshland.

Until the early 1950s, the Aplomado Falcon was found in the extreme southwestern United States, and reintroduction efforts have been underway in Texas and New Mexico. In the 90s it began to reoccupy parts of its former range in western Texas and southern New Mexico. Reintroduction efforts have proven effective with the successful fledging of three young in New Mexico in 2002, and more sightings occurring through the present day.

The reintroduction efforts in New Mexico have been met with criticism, because technically, all Aplomado Falcons in New Mexico are considered part of the “experimental” reintroduction population. As such, while they are still legally protected from hunting, they are not protected by Endangered Species Act requirements to preserve their habitat. Environmental groups have worked to restore full protection to the Aplomado Falcon so not too jeopardize the success of their reintroduction efforts.

Despite missing from some areas of its range, the IUCN has assessed it as a Species of Least Concern due to its overall widespread range.

The Aplomado Falcon is sometimes referred to its old name, the Orange-chested Hobby, due to its resemblance to hobbies. Aplomado is Spanish for “lead-colored,” which refers to the bluish gray areas of its plumage. Spanish names for this bird include: halcón aplomado and halcón fajado. In Brazil it is locally known as falcão-de-coleira.

This is a very slender, long-winged, and long-tailed falcon. It is similar in size to the Peregrine Falcon. The adult is 12 to 16 inches in length with a wingspan of roughly 36 inches. While similar in size to smaller peregrines, it is only half the weight, at 7.3 to 10.8 ounces in the male, and 9.6 to 16 ounces in the female. The adult has bluish-gray head and upperparts. It has the usual falcon “moustache” contrasting sharply with the white throat and eye stripe. The upper breast is white with black patches on each side of the lower breast that meet in the middle. The belly and thighs are cinnamon colored below the black patches. The tail is black with narrow white or gray bars and a white tip. The cere (a fleshy membrane on the beak), eye-ring and feet are yellow to orange.

Sexes are similar in adult appearance. The juveniles are also similar to adults, except their upperparts and belly band are blackish brown. The chest is streaked with black, the white on the head and breast is buff colored, and the cinnamon on the underparts is paler, as are the feet.

The Aplomado Falcon is often confused with the Bat Falcon and Orange-breasted Falcon, which are similarly patterned. These two species, which are closely related to the Peregrine Falcon, do also belong to the same lineage as the Aplomado Falcon. However, the Merlin and the American Kestrel seem to be closer to the Aplomado group than most other falcons, although the relationships of all these lineages is unclear.

The diet of the Aplomado Falcon mainly consists of large invertebrates and small vertebrates, with smaller birds making up the bulk of its prey. Small birds fear this falcon more than most other predators. It is often seen soaring at twilight hunting insects and eating them in flight. Cooperative hunting has also been observed in this species, with two birds — usually a breeding pair — seen hunting at burned fields. In Brazil, these birds have been seen following wolves and chasing birds that the wolves flush out. Most prey birds are about one-fifth to one-half the falcon’s weight. However, female Aplomados have been observed taking prey birds larger than their own weight, such as the Cattle Egret or Plain Chachalaca. The nest is a platform built of sticks at any height in a bush or tree. Two or three eggs are laid.

US falconry enthusiasts mainly acquire the Aplomado Falcon from breeders because of its scarcity in the United States. A pair of these birds can fetch a price of more than $6,500. It is admired for its hawk-like (mainly the Accipiter) hunting style, which has made the bird famous for being more like the Accipiter than a falcon. The Aplomado Falcon is an ideal hunter of quail and doves, and will also sometimes go after squirrel and rabbits. One problem with these birds, is that they will sometimes fly off with their catch rather than return to the falconer.

Image credit: Beth Fortner/Wikipedia (CC Attribution 3.0)