How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund spent nine years from 1988 to 1996 studying Neotropical birds of prey in the Peten region of Guatemala in an ambitious undertaking called the Maya Project. This information helped contribute to the scientific world's knowledge of the Bat Falcon and other neotropical species. This is important because the more we know about a species, the better we are able to help conserve it. The Peregrine Fund published the results of the Maya Project in a book called "Neotropical Birds of Prey, Biology and Ecology of a Forest Raptor Community." Additionally, our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve birds of prey around the world. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists gather and share important information on raptor conservation.
Where it Lives
Like the Ornate Hawk-eagle or the Harpy Eagle, the Bat Falcon is considered a neotropical species. It is found throughout much of South America, north into Central America and parts of Mexico.
This small and stunning raptor occupies a wide range of habitats. They can be found soaring, diving, calling, and hunting above pristine forests, along forest edges, in palm savannas, along small waterways (such as rivers or streams), in agricultural fields, and even small towns. This falcon tends to avoid higher altitude habitats, preferring to remain at low and middle elevations. If you are in Bat Falcon territory, be sure to scan all of the tall exposed tree branches, or even building ledges, as they spend quite a bit of time perching on these structures.
What it Does
The swift and graceful Bat Falcon is also quite stunning. Its head, back, and tail are bluish-black and their feathers are edged in a lovely silvery grey, which contrasts beautifully with its bright white throat, neck, and upper breast. Sometimes, their white throat is tinged with blotches of orange. Its lower breast is also black, but it is marked with thin, white lines, and its lower belly is a bright orange-rufous color. It has bright yellow feet and a yellow cere and dark eyes.
You have probably heard the terms "diurnal" and "nocturnal" to describe the time of day when an organism is most active. Diurnal, of course, means a species is active in the day time, and nocturnal means the species goes about its regular routine of feeding, moving around, finding mates, and more at night. But, have you heard the term "crepuscular"? Crepuscular is the word that describes animals that are most active during dawn and dusk - when the sun is rising and setting, respectively. The Bat Falcon is considered a crepuscular species. This makes sense since this is the same time one of its favorite prey animals - bats - are also active.
While single Bat Falcons generally aren't too vocal, a breeding pair can actually make quite a bit of noise. Vocalizing helps them keep track of each other, helps them know when one has arrived with food, and even communicate when they are hungry. Bat Falcons also use vocalizations to warn of danger and to scare off potential predators. This warning call is a high-pitched "ke, kee, kee" that they emit in quick succession.
Why it Needs Our Help
Though the Bat Falcon is listed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, scientists are aware that this species' population is in decline. One of the biggest threats to this species is habitat loss. When forests are cut down, the falcons are left without enough prey. Other threats probably include the use of pesticides, which can lead to eggshell thinning and other problems. When a bird's eggs don't have hard enough shells, they often break beneath the female's weight when she tries to incubate them. This is what happened to Peregrine Falcons, and other raptors, in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.
What it Eats
Don't let its name fool you! Though the Bat Falcon does indeed eat bats, it also eats a whole lot of other things as well. Its swift speed and long toes make it perfectly designed for catching flying prey. So, as you probably guessed, small birds are also on its menu. Swifts, swallows, hummingbirds, parakeets, tanagers, and small waterbirds all make a tasty meal for this small falcon.
But, there are many other winged things that are also on this falcon's menu. Insects, such as butterflies, moths, dragonflies, beetles, and cicadas, often make up a large part of its diet. However, just because it is an expert at catching animals in flight, that doesn't mean it won't take advantage of an opportunity to catch non-flying prey too. It is known to eat snakes, lizards, frogs, and mice.
As you can imagine, the hunting technique used to catch a parakeet would be quite different than the skills needed to catch a mouse. In the case of the Bat Falcon, it often sits up high in tall trees, on an exposed branch. There it sits and waits patiently for an unsuspecting animal to pass by. When the falcon spots prey, it may do one of several things. To catch its prey it might follow it in quick pursuit before clutching it in its talons. Or, it might make a rapid, powerful dive from a great height to snatch its quarry. It has even been seen diving and striking prey on the surface of water.
One researcher even saw Bat Falcons crashing into canopy vegetation, over and over, with their feet extended and shaking the leaves. This was done, apparently to flush bumblebees that were roosting on the underside of the leaves.
If the falcon catches small prey (such as an insect) it will sometimes eat it while still in mid-flight. Clutching the insect in one foot, it will raise its leg to its beak and quickly eat. If the prey is larger, such as a bird, the Bat Falcon will usually carry its prey off to a perch or fence post and pluck the feathers or fur from it before beginning to eat.
Nest, Eggs and Young
Like most falcon species, Bat Falcons don't build their own nests. Instead, the female will lay her eggs in a natural tree cavity, a woodpecker hole, in an old termite mound, on a cliff ledge or crevice, or even on the ledges of ancient ruins, or even more modern man-made structures. In Panama, on the campus of a local school, a pair of Bat Falcons nested inside an unintentionally roofless nest box designed for another species - the American Kestrel. Unfortunately, this nest failed.
The female usually lays between 2-4 eggs that are white with buffy and reddish-brown markings. The eggs need to be incubated for around 30 days before the fluffy nestlings will hatch. Though the male will occasionally help with incubating the eggs, the bulk of this task is the female's responsibility. But don't worry, the male has a very important job to do, too!
While the female is incubating, the male is responsible for hunting and bringing food to the female. After the nestlings hatch, the male will continue to provide food for the entire family. When the nestlings are very young, the female must remain close to them. During this time she will brood them (keep them warm until they are able to regulate their own body temperature) and protect them from predators.
After the nestlings hatch, they will grow quickly and must eat often. After approximately 35 days, the young falcons will be ready to fly for the first time. Imagine leaping off a tall cliff or high tree for the first time! The young falcons spend a bit of time practicing short flights, wing-flapping and hopping around the nest before they will attempt their first flight. After a very short time and with some practice, they will become very skilled aerial acrobats. After about five months or more, the young falcons will have learned all that they can from their parents about how to hunt and avoid predators. They will leave the adults' territory and set out on their own.
Adult Bat Falcons remain together in a pair bond all year round.
Bat Falcons and the World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. The visitor center offers interactive displays, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes and a touch table for the curious mind. We also have several different birds of prey on display year-around. Though we don't have any Bat Falcons at our center, many other falcon species serve as Avian Ambassadors. Meet Bob, the American Kestrel, Makeda the Lanner Falcon, or Rose, the Northern Aplomado Falcon during your visit. Knowledgeable staff and volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you may have about Bat Falcons or any other birds of prey.
Bierregaard, R. O. and G. M. Kirwan (2020). Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.batfal1.01
BirdLife International. 2020. Falco rufigularis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22696457A140949181. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22696457A140949181.en. Downloaded on 29 June 2021
Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Bat Falcon Falco rufigularis. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 29 Jun. 2021
van Strien, Guinevere (2019). Monitoring a Pair of Bat Falcons (Falco rufigularis) Nesting in a Nest Box on the International School of Panama Campus, Panama. Spizaetus Neotropical Raptor Network Newsletter, Issue 28, December 2019, pp. 23-27.