|Adult Falco biarmicus feldeggi|
|Range of Falco biarmicus|
Possibly Extant (resident)
Falco feldeggii Schlegel, 1841
The lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus) is a medium-sized bird of prey that breeds in Africa, southeast Europe and just into Asia. It prefers open habitat and is mainly resident, but some birds disperse more widely after the breeding season. A large falcon, it preys on birds and bats.
The lanner falcon was described by the Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck in 1825 under the current binomial name Falco biarmicus. The type locality is Caffraria and the Cape of Good Hope.Falco is Late Latin for a "falcon", from falx, falcis "sickle". The Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus had used the specific epithet biarmicus for the bearded reedling and Temminck clearly believed that the word meant "bearded" but it is likely that Linnaeus was using the Latinized form for Bjarmaland, a district in northern Russia. The English word "lanner" is believed to come from the Old French lanier meaning "cowardly". The first recorded use of the word in English is from around 1400.
This is presumably the oldest living hierofalcon species. Support for this assumption comes mainly from biogeography agreeing better with the confusing pattern of DNA sequence data in this case than in others. Nonetheless, there is rampant hybridization (see also perilanner) and incomplete lineage sorting which confounds the data to a massive extent; molecular studies with small sample sizes can simply not be expected to yield reliable conclusions in the entire hierofalcon group.
In any case, the radiation of the entire living diversity of hierofalcons seems to have taken place in the Eemian interglacial at the start of the Late Pleistocene, a mere 130,000-115,000 years ago; the lanner falcons would thus represent the lineage that became isolated in sub-Saharan Africa at some time during the Riss glaciation (200,000 to 130,000 years ago) already.
It is a large falcon, at 43-50 cm (17-20 in) length with a wingspan of 95-105 cm (37-41 in). European lanner falcons (Falco biarmicus feldeggi, also called Feldegg's falcon) have slate grey or brown-grey upperparts; most African subspecies are a paler blue grey above. The breast is streaked in northern birds, resembling greyish saker falcons, but the lanner has a reddish back to the head. Sexes are similar, but the browner young birds resemble saker falcons even more. However, sakers have a lighter top of the head and less clear head-side patterns. The lanner's call is a harsh "wray-e".
The lanner falcon is a bird of open country and savanna. It usually hunts by horizontal pursuit, rather than the peregrine falcon's stoop from a height, and takes mainly bird prey in flight. It lays three to four eggs on a cliff ledge nest, or occasionally in an old stick nest in a tree.
They are bred in captivity for falconry; hybrids with the peregrine ("perilanners") are also often seen. Merret (1666) claimed that the "lanar" lived in Sherwood Forest and the Forest of Dean in England; such populations would seem to have derived from escaped hunting birds of the nobility.
In the wild, lanner falcon numbers are somewhat declining in Europe, though the species remains relatively common in parts of Africa. In the Degua Tembien mountains of Ethiopia, it was observed to contribute to controlling pest rodents.
Jackdaw flocks are targets of coordinated hunting by pairs of lanner falcons, although larger flocks are more able to elude becoming prey. In Africa and Israel, lanner falcons were observed as hunting bats.
Painting by John Gerrard Keulemans (1884)
Juvenile, probably F. b. feldeggi. Note blue facial skin and overall similarity to saker falcon.
Falco biarmicus feldeggii - MHNT
Falco biarmicus erlangeri - MHNT