Orange-breasted Falcon Falco deiroleucus

  • Order: Falconiformes
  • Family: Falconidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Robert Berry, Christopher L. Wood, and Brian L. Sullivan
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Appearance

Distinguishing Characteristics

Orange-breasted is a medium-sized falcon with a large, massive bill and huge, heavy tarsi and feet relative to its size (females only). Superficially similar to the smaller Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis); see Similar Species.

Similar Species

Orange-breasted Falcon is very similar in appearance to the much more common Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis). Structural clues are helpful in identification; Orange-breasted Falcon has a proportionately larger head and bill, and much larger feet. Although Orange-breasted is larger than Bat Falcon, relative size can be difficult to judge when viewing a lone bird. Adult Orange-breasted Falcons have a dark black head and blackish back with feathers edged in blue gray. The pure white throat contrasts with a broad band of orange rufous across the upper breast that extends up behind the auriculars. The underparts show a black vest that is coarsely patterned with prominent markings of ochre to white, which are especially visible on the flanks. The lower belly, undertail coverts, and tarsus are orange-rufous. See Detailed Description.

In addition, some South American Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus cassini) may have some reddish-orange/salmon coloration on the upper breast. Facial patterns of Peregrine Falcons vary considerably, from the vertical malar stripe of Falco peregrinus tundrius to the almost complete black helmet of northern cassini, similar to that of Orange-breasted Falcon but lacking the distinctive crescent. Note, however, the adult Orange-breasted Falcon's more contrasting barred vest and the full orange coloration on the crop that wraps up behind the auriculars. Juvenile Peregrines can appear surprisingly similar to juvenile Orange-breasted Falcons in both plumage and structure. As with adults, note Orange-breasted Falcon's facial pattern with the ochre coloration from the breast extending in the shape of a crescent to behind the auriculars. Neither subspecies of Peregrine Falcon is a bird of the tropical forest, but migrating tundrius may be considered ubiquitous in Central and South America. The northern range of cassini extends into the open dry woodlands of Ecuador and Bolivia where it is considered rare. Falco peregrinus cassini has not been found in the Amazon Basin (Clayton White, personal communication).

Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis) also superficially is similar to Orange-breasted Falcons. Aplomado Falcons differ in having a boldly contrasting pale supercilium and pale forecrown. They are much slimmer, with long thin legs and much smaller feet. In flight, Aplomado Falcons appear much longer-winged and longer-tailed.

Detailed Description

Adult

Sexes are identical in pattern, but variable in coloration and intensity, although without distinct color morphs. Also, this is the most size-dimorphic of falcons: female Orange-breasted Falcons may be twice the size and weight of a male and appear one-third or more larger. Feet, cere, and orbital eyering of adults are generally bright yellow, but may vary to a pale yellow or even a dull bluish green, similar to the immature.

From behind, adults have a large, dark black head ("helmet"), a bluish black back with lighter blue gray feather edgings that may glisten in the sunlight or appear dark black in low light, and a slightly rounded tail that appears uniformly dark. Closer inspection reveals six light buff to bluish horizontal tail bars that may be hidden from view by the less distinct barring on the deck feathers. Barring is highly visible when the tail is fanned, such as while sunbathing, warbling (stretching), or drying wet plumage.

From the front, adults have a distinct white throat and bib, which wraps around the front of the neck, merging into a rufous orange crescent, which extends from the orange crop up through the cheek toward the back of the bird’s head. Individual birds are highly variable in the amount of white versus buffy rufous orange in the throat and bib area, but all show a degree of bright white beneath the lower mandible.

From the front, beneath the white throat and bib, the breast area is divided into three distinct areas of color gradation. The entire upper breast or crop area is a clear buffy, rufous orange (most Bat Falcons Falco rufigularis have a thin orange line beneath the white throat or no line at all, although some South American birds may appear to have a buffy rufous throat and bib). The midsection of the breast or vest is black, overlain with reddish brown horizontal coarse barring, becoming lighter and more distinct on the flanks (in darker individuals, the vest barring may be all rufous, giving the entire vest a solid dark appearance). The lower panel (belly) and thigh areas, as well as the undertail coverts, are a rich buffy orange, like the crop. The lateral edges of the undertail coverts may be clear to barred with black-and-white (or rufous) chevrons (like the immature Bat Falcon).

Wing-tips when crossed in a normal resting posture fall above the tip of the tail, by as much as half an inch for the male and a full inch for the female. When dozing, after a shower, or when sunbathing or preparing to fly, the wings may extend to or well below the tip of the tail.

Immature

The immature is paler (less vividly marked) overall than adults, with blackish head and dark brownish black back and tail, contrasting with a pale buffy breast overlain with horizontal dark brown barring on the flanks with brown chevrons on the thighs, panel (belly), and undertail coverts.

The crop is a much paler buff marked with brown teardrops dissolving into a clear buffy rufous bib and throat which extends into the crescents on the cheek and upper neck. The cere and orbital areas may be a dull pale bluish green, with greenish to pale yellow feet, changing more to the yellow spectrum with age. The tail has similar light barring of the adult, but much less vivid even during fanning (except for the diagnostic crescent, very similar to immature peregrine).

Molts

Little information, especially of Orange-breasted Falcon in the wild. Adults in a captive breeding population in North America initiate a complete molt in April or May, which continues through September or sometimes even later.

Bare Parts

Feet, cere, and orbital eyering of adults are generally bright yellow, but may vary to a pale yellow or even a dull bluish green, similar to the immature.

In the immature, the cere and orbital areas may be a dull pale bluish green, with greenish to pale yellow feet, changing more to the yellow spectrum with age.

Measurements

A medium-sized falcon, slightly larger to considerably larger than Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis). Smaller than Arctic Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus tundrius), but closer in size to South American Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus cassini).

Length

Female: 38–40 cm (15–15.7")


Male: 35–36 cm (13.8–14.2")

Mass

Female: 550-700 g


Male:     325-425 g

Recommended Citation

Berry, R., C. L. Wood, and B. L. Sullivan (2009). Orange-breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.orbfal1.01