Tryst with the Red necked falcon

Red necked falcon (Falco chicquera) is a relatively small but a powerful bird of prey in the falcon family. This bird quite stands out with its chestnut, red coloured crown and nape. The moustachial stripe and the bright yellow ring around its eye are very distinct too. There are known to be two disconnected populations of Red necked falcons, one in India and the other in Africa. The Indian subspecies (Falco chicquera chicquera) is found across the plains of the Indian Subcontinent. These birds have a very powerful and fast flight which they use to great effect in hunting small birds, bats and squirrels among others.

Though the Red-necked falcons are found quite widely across India, I was yet to encounter one. This bird was a lifer for me. In birding terms, lifer is a bird species that a bird enthusiast is yet to see. So, unsurprisingly, the Red-necked falcon had been on my list of birds to see for quite a while. A weekend jaunt to Chennai was supposed to bring that wish of mine to fruition. 

All geared up, I landed in Chennai. The weather predictions were indicating rains, which didn’t sound very promising. Also, knowing that the Chennai rains during this season can be quite relentless wasn’t very motivating either 🙁 Anyways, what was bound to happen will happen 😁

Talked to my good friend and fellow wildlife photographer Karthik Ramamurthy who was to be my guide, the one who was going to make my wish come true 😁 and plans were made. 

On the D-day, it was an early rise and we headed out to the birding spot far in the outskirts of Chennai. Luckily, it hadn’t begun to rain yet! We reached the place before sunrise to be able to catch some of the beautiful harriers which take flight just at the break of dawn to leave their roost. Catching them post that for photography is near impossible. As we searched around, we came across a few of them, though they were quite skittish. A couple of them were cooperative and posed. A Common kestrel also joined the club.

Pallid Harrier (male)
Pallid Harrier (sub-adult)
Pallid Harrier (male)

Once the harriers left, we drove around keeping a keen eye for any avian activity. There were still no signs of the RNF (Red-necked falcon) though. My wish, my precious was still playing elusive 😁

Irony too was that there were absolutely no indications of rain whatsoever, and in its place, was a bright sun coming up with all the forebodings of a hot and a sweaty day!! The light was getting harsh by the moment as well. As we drove around, Karthik exclaimed that he saw something dart past at a distance like a flash and indicated that it looked like a RNF. This got me excited. We drove towards the spot where Karthik had noticed the movement. Still nothing! 

Just as we were planning to drive away, there was some movement behind a small mound nearby. We waited and there it was, the beautiful Red-necked falcon. It seemed quite active as it jumped up and sat on the mound. There it was, the RNF now in front of me, in all its glory! 

Red-necked falcon

This individual seemed like a pretty bold one. It didn’t seem to be a least bit bothered by our presence. Neither was it bothered by the presence of a couple of stray dogs near by. The falcon rather seemed to be enjoying the company of the dogs and started playing with them by taunting them as one of the dogs tried to run behind the falcon in an attempt to catch it. The falcon would swoop down towards the dog and tease the dog, coaxing it to attempt and catch it. Just as the dog tried to run behind it, the falcon would swoop up and away out of the dog’s reach 😊 Very bold individual indeed!

Sitting on the mound, the falcon was bobbing its neck and eyeing something very intently. From its behaviour, it was clear that the falcon was in hunting mode, looking for its breakfast.

We decided to give it some space and started looking around for some other activity. Things seemed pretty silent and it was getting quite hot too! We parked our vehicle at a spot for a breather and began munching on some biscuits. As we were chit-chatting, we noticed the RNF which for all this while was seated on the same mound we had left it on, suddenly take off, dive towards the ground and take off again! In all probability, it looked like the falcon had made a kill. The falcon then disappeared behind a huge bund. 

We quickly got into our vehicle and drove towards the bund in search of the falcon. Just as we turned around the corner we saw the RNF settled on a mound feeding on something. We kept some distance and came to a halt. I couldn’t really believe what my eyes were seeing!!

The amazing bird had caught what looked like a Paddy-field pipit. We just stationed ourselves there and watched in awe as the amazing predator feasted on its prey.

The falcon was indeed in a hurry as there were other potential predators that could snatch the kill away from this little bird. Hence, it seemed quite cautious and kept looking up every now and then to be sure that there was no one around to disturb it.

Not this time though, the falcon was left in peace and it finished its meal comfortably. Then, it relaxed for a bit, stretched itself and took off.

Absolutely mesmerising turn of events and truly moments to remember! Going in with an expectation of at the most getting to see a Red necked falcon to the way things turned out, what can I say, was just spectacular. Am not complaining 😃 A big thanks to Karthik too!!

Until next time, adios…


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