The Red-footed Falcon is a very rare vagrant to Cornwall but May and June is the prime time to find one.
The species breeds in eastern Europe across to Siberia and winters in southern Africa. It is classed as Near Threatened by Birdlife International both in Europe and globally due to population declines caused by habitat loss.
Due to its eastern distribution, the majority of British records come from the English east and south coast, especially between Norfolk and Hampshire. It was removed from the list of birds considered by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) at the end of 2005 and reported sightings are now assessed at county level.
In Cornwall, Penhallurick (1978) listed four unsubstantiated records, in 1851, 1867, 1935 and 1961, the latter being rejected by BBRC. He also reported a female seen near Tintagel on 14th October 1970 and this is taken to be the first authenticated record. Since then there has been a further 23 records with all but three being in spring or early summer.
These are summarised in Fig 1 and Fig 2.
It can be seen that most reports are in May and June, accounting for 83% of records. However, the peak time to look for a Red-footed Falcon in Cornwall is the second half of May and the first week of June which together account for 54% of records.
The majority of spring birds remained for just one or two days, although one remained for 9 days and one autumn individual remained for 12 days. Five were identified as adult males, six as adult females, seven as second calendar year males, two as second year females and four as unaged or first year birds.
There does not appear to be any apparent trend in the frequency of records, with eight being noted in the 20 year period 1970-1989 and nine between 1990 and 2009. However, there have been seven records since 2010, indicating that sightings are becoming more frequent, maybe as a result of climate change.
The map illustrates a strong western bias; 75% of records, with 54% from the Lizard alone. Croft Pascoe was the top site with 4 records. As many of these are well watched locations, the possibility of observer bias cannot be ruled out.
So for the best chance of finding a Red footed Falcon this spring, try daily visits to the Lizard during the last two weeks of May, concentrating your efforts on the Croft Pascoe area. However, Red foots are wide ranging and not particularly catholic in their habitat requirement so could turn up just about anywhere. If you are lucky enough to find one, chances are that it will be a 2nd calendar year male or maybe an adult female and will remain for no more than a couple of days.
Thanks to Dave Parker for helpful comment