The Brown Falcon is also known as a brown hawk. It is one of the most widespread birds in Australia — there is almost nowhere they cannot be seen, the exception being the densest of forests. They are most commonly seen, usually alone, sitting upright on an exposed perch such as a power pole or large dead tree from where prey can be sighted. They are also seen hovering or flying back and forth over open habitats such as; deserts, coastal vegetation, agricultural fields, roadsides, forest clearings and especially open grasslands and low shrublands, when searching for prey. Birds may stay within the same areas throughout the year or may move around (locally nomadic) in response to changes in conditions and food availability.
The predominant feature of the Brown Falcon is the lack of a clutching foot mechanism to catch and kill prey, which is characteristic of other raptors. Instead, they have powerful hooked bills with specialised ‘tomial teeth’ and matching notches which can sever neck bones with one bite.
When prey is sighted, the bird swoops down and grasps it in its claws (talons), killing the prey with a bite to the spine.
Brown Falcons are small to medium-sized (41cm- 51cm Average size) raptors (birds of prey). The female is larger than the male (average weight: male 506g, female 681g). Adult birds are usually 10 to 20cm in length. These falcons make a loud, high pitched, cackle call (like a laying hen) and screeching while in flight but are normally silent at rest.
Brown Falcons are generalist, opportunistic predators that take prey from a huge range of different wildlife. This is in direct contrast to the rest of Australia’s falcons which have a comparatively narrow dietary preference. However, although the Brown Falcons dietary flexibility is a likely factor behind their widespread distribution, individual pairs of Brown Falcons sometimes concentrate heavily on particular prey types, such as rabbits or reptiles. This pattern likely results, from individuals taking advantage of local, small-scale changes in prey abundance.
The Brown Falcon also eats small mammals, including house mice and young rabbits, with introduced rabbits being their most common prey in many places, especially in summer. They also eat small birds, lizards, snakes, and a variety of invertebrates, particularly caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. Insects form the bulk of the animals’ diets during winter.
The Brown Falcon has a range of plumage colours (morphs), varying from very dark brown (dark morph) to light brown above and off-white below (light morph).