Black falcon near extinct

CARNIVORE: The Black Falcon is 45–55 cm in length, uniformly dark brown to sooty black, with a pale throat and an indistinct black streak below each eye.
CARNIVORE: The Black Falcon is 45–55 cm in length, uniformly dark brown to sooty black, with a pale throat and an indistinct black streak below each eye. Dean Ingwersen

IT IS an elusive and rare bird few people have heard or seen, but the black falcon (Falco subniger) is an occasional visitor to the Northern Rivers and it is in the process of being listed as a vulnerable species.

The black falcon is widely distributed but uncommon through inland NSW, and is usually found in open woodlands, along tree-lined creeks and grasslands.

There are, however, a few records of the black falcon on the Northern Rivers: "One west of Byron and a couple near Grafton," according to Andrew McIntyre, manager of Biodiversity Assessment and Conservation at the Office of Environment and Heritage.

"When there are good seasons in inland NSW, like over the past couple of years, numbers build up and some birds move around more than usual, which may explain the rare sighting of the birds on the North Coast," he said.

The Threatened Species Conservation Act established a scientific committee chaired by Associate Professor Michelle Leishman.

The committee's report states that the "main threats to black falcons are thought to be the clearing of habitat in the semi-arid zone and the degradation of habitat by overgrazing, with likely effects on the black falcon's foraging habitat, nest sites and food supply."

"The black falcon may also be threatened by human disturbance to nest sites, pesticide accumulation, and collisions with power lines and wind turbines. A potential threat to the falcon's breeding productivity in the agricultural zone is competition for, and interference at nests by over- abundant ravens and cockatoos," the report says.

A third and new potential threat for the birds is "an outbreak of Newcastle disease (paramyxovirus) in domestic and feral pigeons, which is killing some bird-eating raptors in Victoria".

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