The Lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus) is a medium-sized bird of prey with a very wide distribution range, from the Mediterranean to South Africa. A rare sight in Europe, and often misidentified with similar falcons such as the peregrine (Falco peregrinus), its existence as a separate species has been much discussed. As of today, five subspecies have been recognized, all with slightly different plumage patterns and size. Four of them (F. b. biarmicus, F. b. abyssinicus, F. b. erlangeri, F. b. tanypterus) have wide separate distributions in the African continent, while Falco biarmicus feldeggii is the only one found in Europe, and just in some Mediterranean countries.
Its name comes from the Latin falx meaning sickle, a shape suggested by its silhouette during flight. Biarmicus is a reference to the two beard stripes, which together with other plumage features gets darker at higher latitudes, likely to facilitate thermoregulation in colder weathers.
F. b. feldeggii occupy open areas such as pasturelands, steppes, uncultivated fields and often plain desert. The presence of nearby cliffs and rocky ground makes for a perfect habitat, since nests are scrapes on rock faces. With only 60-80 breeding pairs, Italy is one of the two main core areas in Europe together with the Southern Balkans and Turkey.
Courtship and its spectacular aerial displays start in December, with egg-laying peaking in February-March. The average clutch size is of 3-4 eggs. Parental care is split, so while a female is brooding her partner provides food, often hunting from perches. Birds make up most of their diet: sometimes even other raptors like kestrels and small owls, but more commonly pigeons, magpies, jays and wood pigeons. Other kinds of prey include mammals, reptiles, and also invertebrates.
This species is not truly migratory, but only performs short local movements according to weather conditions and food supply. Due to the lack of tracking studies, no clear data is available on Lanner home range and movement ecology. One of the goals of the LIFE Lanner project is to fill this gap in knowledge.
Giovanni Leonardi, Marco Preziosi, Alan C. Kemp (2015) The Lanner Falcon, privately published