Migration of Red-footed Falcon along Alpine foothills

RotfußfalkeIn the last days of May 2015, a remarkable presence of Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) was reported from southern Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria. Red-footed Falcons are a thrilling sight – not only for Western Europe. Therefore it is advisable to prepare for a seasonal pattern of occurrence by knowing migration routes, behavior and history of vagrant sightings.

These bird breeds from Eastern Europe to Mongolia. Its journey to and from its South African wintering grounds routinely leads it across the Mediterranean. This migratory behavior make it a regular vagrancy, not least in spring when they are significantly travelling further west from Africa back into the Eastern European breeding areas.

At least this was true in 2015, where at least Switzerland, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria showed a strong presence of Red-footed Falcon But already north of the Danube it occurred only occasionally. But not only these areas in Middle Europe were blessed by high numbers of migrating Red-footed Falcons. Good numbers were reported from Catalonia over southern France and along the whole of the Alpine northern edge, as well as south of the Alps down to the Camargue in France over northern Italy and southern Austria.

Red-footed Falcon show a pronounced pattern in migration comparing the autumn with the spring pattern of routes. In some years, it can thereby be drifted far to the west. In most cases strong easterly winds are the trigger for an above-average occurrence in the area of Switzerland, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria. This happened last year and recently in 2008, when by the middle of May hundreds of Red-footed Falcon could be enjoyed as far north as in the Netherlands and northern Germany.

Last spring, Red-footed Falcon were apparently drifted very far to the west resulting in significantly higher than average numbers in Spain and on the French Mediterranean coast. The trigger for this phenomenea is not quite clear. The weather was determined mainly by western and northwestern currents since the end of April 2015. This might explain why they no longer migrated northward. The most widely drifted birds seem to have bypassed the mountains of the Alps flying around towards their breeding grounds in South-Eastern Europe

Let’s hope, that coming generations of birders can enjoy this exciting bird of spring migration, too!

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