Barbary Falcons

(from an article by  Pete Jungemann) 

Barbary Falcons (Falco pelegrinoides) are small to medium sized falcons from extreme northern Africa and the lower Middle East. In the extreme northeast portion of it’s range it tends to mingle somewhat with the similar (but slightly larger) Red-naped Shaheen (Falco babylonicus) at the extreme southwest part of the shaheen’s range.

The Barbary Falcon and the Red-naped Shaheen have long been utilized by falconers of the region. Both species tend to inhabit some of the bleakest environments that a falcon is known to live. The terrain of the area is typically desolate and arid. Temperatures tend to be extreme, being typically very warm to hot during the day, but can be very cold during the night due to the dryness and lack of vegetation. The Barbary tends to have large home ranges that may encompass many, but very scattered, oasises that are visited on a regular basis in their search for prey. 

In response to their environment, this species of falcon has evolved into a powerful predator. They are very “driven” birds, highly enthusiastic about flying and the chase, with great stamina, speed and aerobatic abilities. In many ways they appear to combine the high-flying style of the close relative the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the Merlin (Falco columbarius).

In behavior they tend to be different from the Peregrine in their response to the falconer. They are more likely to be sweet natured, easily handled and more easily trained than the Peregrine. Training for “waiting-on” style flights are rather easily accomplished with the Barbary as they like to fly high, and with their considerable acceleration and enthusiasm for the chase, position is rarely a problem. In fact, some of the best flights I’ve witnessed with this species has been when the falcon was encouraged to be so far out of position that most falcons wouldn’t even consider such a setup as a viable slip! The Barbary loves a challenging setup on difficult quarry. The more fleet and evasive the quarry, the more the Barbary tends to fixate on these species.  

Sexual dimorphism is very pronounced in this species. Tiercel Barbaries tend to have flying weight ranges from 370-490 grams (13-17 oz.), falcons tending to be 590-700 grams (21-25 oz.).

Barbaries tend to have very good appetites as such a “busy” flier can require considerable fuel for their activities. As falconry birds, Barbaries have been flown on a wide variety of quarries ranging from sparrows, starlings, snipe, doves, quail, partridges, ducks of various species ranging from teal to mallard, and perhaps strong falcons could take pheasant.

Because of the evolution of this species it has incredible capacity to function even in the seasonally warm areas of the sunbelt...particularly the southwest areas of the U.S.. I have flown them in 100 degree temperatures, and down to the 30 degree daytime highs temperatures in winter. When the temperatures go to the upper end of the scale, the Barbary responds by flying so high at times that they disappear from binocular view. At this altitude they are in considerably more comfortable temperatures and will return to such pitches after a miss just to cool off.

Flying such a bird that has learned this trick can cause many falconers to develop ‘nerves of steel’ just to fly their bird. But it is part of the package and it may be difficult for some falconers to accept and even less for some falconers to adjust to the Barbaries flight capabilities.  Reining in such exuberance requires considerable discipline on the part of the falconer and will definitely be the biggest challenge when dealing with the Barbary Falcon. I have found this species to have considerable talents and well worth the occasional telemetry drills that they have become known for by modern falconers. 

In flight style the Barbary tends to have a powerful stroke with considerable and obvious ‘snap’ to their wing beat. They have a heavily loaded wingload for their body size and as a consequence they must flap often to remain airborne. Their primaries are long but their secondaries are short giving them a strong ‘sickle-winged’ look. Their shortish tapered tail tends to enhance the overall visual effect which has shown to be very intimidating to certain quarries! They do tend to favor high pitches and, while they may prefer vertical stoops at times, their speed and drive are most evident in slips that provide for a slightly angled shot at fleeing quarry. Flights that begin from such angles tend to allow the Barbary to use it’s considerable speed, but also to recover and begin to assault the quarry should the initial attack fail. They have a distinctive outrun attack that is quite stylish which involves a ‘zig-zag’ strike across the flight path of the evading quarry which is initiated during the earliest portions of the pitch out. It can have a demoralizing effect on the quarry as they are battered and ripped from side to side, over and under.