Earlier this week I had the good fortune to observe a Grey Falcon. I have been travelling through this bird’s known areas for the past 4-5 years without success. This week, the grey ghost who flies became a ghost no more.
Before I posted the photos and this Blog entry, I checked with a few people just to make sure I wasn’t putting up photos of a different species. A huge thank you to Mark Carter, Chris Watson and Jonny Schoenjahn for assisting with the ID. For those of you who are unaware, Jonny is currently undertaking a thesis on Grey Falcons, and I strongly recommend you check out his website:
The photos below are of an immature bird starting to get its adult plumage, thank you to Jonny for this piece of information. I have included some photos that are not nearly as sharp as I would like, to give a small impression of the behaviour of the bird I observed.
Some of the other behavioural traits I noticed was this bird only came close to the ground for a short time. It was quite lazy in its wing-beats and tended to soar very high, higher than most birds apart from possibly a Wedge-tailed Eagle or a Black-breasted Buzzard when they soar on the thermals. Having said that, it wasn’t too far up for the eye to see, so if you are looking for Grey Falcons, don’t look too far into the atmosphere. When it turned, the tail feathers spread similar to a Brown Falcon.
The day was cloudy, which normally would make spotting a bird up high fairly hard as they do blend in with the clouds, but the dark wing-tips made this particular bird a bit easier to view. It was also quite windy, so, added to my excitement, alas the photos aren’t what I expected when I downloaded them off the camera.
There were thousands of Zebra Finches in the location, as well as a few Cockatiels, Budgerigars, Willie Wagtails and a largish flock of about 80 Crested Pigeons. I didn’t observe the bird hunt, but there was certainly enough prey.
I was lucky enough for the Grey Falcon to fly over me from behind quite low down, and it continued to watch me as it flew away from me. It took a long time for it to wheel around and head back toward me, and even then it was a fairly tight turning circle then away and up from me again.
So, for those of you who are yet to see a Grey Falcon, keep looking, they are not a ghost. The observed features I saw that were helpful in knowing the bird was indeed a Grey Falcon were the yellow beak and eye area, the “dumpy” muscle-bound body, and the tail length and position compared to the feet in flight. The really high soaring probably ruled out a few species that are similar. I have included some distant comparison shots of the Grey Falcon and a mature Brown Goshawk for a visual explanation of the tail/feet length and position.
Although I am excited to see and be able to watch the Grey Falcon’s behaviour, there was something a little bit lacking from my expectations of seeing this enigmatic bird for the first time. I have seen a number of wonderful close up photos of the bird perched in a tree and I probably hoped I would be able to enjoy the same sort of experience the other photographers had had. I also really wanted to be with my son when I saw my first Grey Falcon. Alas, this wasn’t to be. The sighting was still a huge buzz, and an experience I will remember for a long time.