Peale's Falcon in Japan?

Peregrine Falcon

But, is it a Peale's Peregrine Falcon? (Falco peregrinus pealei)

Niigata Prefecture, Japan

November 11, 2012

(I recommend clicking on the pictures)

Late on Sunday, after a full day of bird watching, Mr Honma and myself were sitting in conversation when a peregrine shot past. It was a very dark, gloomy afternoon and I thought I'd missed any more chances of photographs for the day. Some time later, I heard a loud falconish distress call coming from behind trees some 50-80 meters away. I was imagining it had caught something. We moved quickly in the direction and found this large, dark falcon sitting alone on an electric post. She was looking about the place and seemed agitated. I was surprised she allowed us to get so close. Her behaviour seemed different to typical encounters I've had with local birds. I have to say when I first sighted her I was taken by her largeness, size wise and robustness. Plus, her darkness. I've always considered Japanese Peregrines to be paler than the Australian ones I'd seen before.

Another observer came up behind us and explained he'd been watching her for some time and said he thought she was a Falco peregrinus peregrinator, a subspecies from China and India. We took his word for it but when I got home, I checked my field guides (Japanese guides plus my "Raptors of the World", Ferguson-Lees & Christie, Princeton Field Guides, 2005) and thought her to be more similar to  pealei  of the north pacific or even anatum of North America. My biggest reluctance over the pealei claim is that descriptions say pealei has either bluey-grey to pale yellow soft parts such as the cere, around the eye or feet. I think my falcon's feet are a stronger yellow than that. If you have any ideas, I'd be grateful to hear from you.

One factor in favour of my pealei claim is that again Niigata has had a visit from a troop of Canadian Geese which I heard passed through in the last week. They seem to be coming through at the same time each year. If they are the same ones I found a couple of years ago, I thought they were "Aleutian Geese". See this post here!  That's Peale's Falcon territory and the descriptions I have found of Peale's Falcon from the Aleutian Islands fairly well match my girl!!

(In 2008, in Niigata, I encountered an Amur Falcon from the Amur River region between China and Russia. Although I didn't photograph it, I photographed Daurian Starlings just minutes later; another species from the same region).  My theory is that when vagrants or stragglers may come through we probably get several species from a region at a time and I have been finding the odd vagrant in Niigata....especially after storms or strong winds.


I posted some pics on Birdforum and asked for advice there and at this stage have had a reply from Richard Klim who wrote:

(As copied and pasted from Birdforum):

Brazil 1991 (Birds of Japan) notes that pealei has been recorded in Niigata-ken.

Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001 (Raptors of the World): "F. p. pealei ...wintering south to Kuriles, occasionally to Japan... Largest and heaviest race; darker than anatum, with streaking on larger cheek-patches, heavier markings below..."

White et al 2002 (BNA Online): "F. p. pealei Ridgway, 1873. Coastal Pacific Northwest from Washington north to w. Alaska, Aleutian and Commander Is., and possibly Kamchatka and Kuril Is. In immature, wide variation in southern portion of range (3 more or less distinct variants), but generally darker overall than F. p. anatum. Upperparts typically more slate (chaetura black, with nuchal-collar) ocelli poorly defined, usually lacking edgings; where edgings occur, more whitish with subtle olive-grayish to olive-yellowish tint. Underneath usually lacking definite tawny background wash (more olive) except in palest individuals (which resemble F. p. tundrius). Underparts typically very much darker because streaking much wider, with streak sometimes covering entire feather, except for pale whitish-buff margin. Central rectrices most frequently without bars; occasionally pale spots in place of bars. Tail-tip whitish with greenish-yellow tint. Only dark variants known in Aleutians. Soft parts at fledging in Aleutian F. p. pealei pale yellowish. Adult F. p. pealei hard to characterize because of difference between birds in south part of range and Aleutians (darker, more heavily spotted, and lacking tints of yellow or buff), but upperparts more slaty, fuscous-black with lower back and rump less blue, so less contrasting with mantle and head than in F. p. anatum or F. p. tundrius. Usually no or only hint of forehead-band except those in southern part of range, where forehead-band may exceed 10 mm. Background of underparts more whitish with tint of yellowish or olive. Markings color of back, but bold, broad, with spots and teardrops extending into crop (crop usually without spots, whiter, especially in southern portion of range). Soft parts in Aleutian F. p. pealei, at least, pale lemon yellow in contrast to deeper yellow orangish in F. p. anatum and F. p. tundrius."

- Thank you, Richard and Birdforum.

However, I have also had replies which think it is merely a dark japonensis.

That forum can be read here

Thanks to Mark and Chris for their feedback too.

Hmm. I wonder where she is from?

I also wondered if she was an escapee. She didn't seem worried about being approached and was even looking at us often but was worried about her stalker.

She has a very full hood, bold markings and "tear drops" on her chest.

She was very vocal and had a deeper and stronger voice than I've heard from any other peregrine subspecies.

She was agitated and concerned about something around her.

She bobbed up and down in this submissive pose...

Then, defiantly defends herself. I was wanting to look around but didn't want to take my eye off the ball.

BAM! Another, smaller lighter coloured falcon attacked her like a bullet.
I assumed it was a male, Japanese peregrine (top right of the picture).
(I took one frame, just at the right time).

She was crying out, but dislodged from the post.

I saw the attacker loop around and disappear behind us but I tried to keep my lens on her...

She accelerated at peregrine speed in the direction that her attacker had gone.

Below are some old files of a typical adult Japanese Peregrine Falcon as I've encountered around Honshu, Japan. Notice the whiter chest and finer bars: 

adult Falco peregrinus japonensis
(Niigata, 2008) and below: