Summer seems to be arriving with great strides, and the air is trembling with the heat even though the sunny June is still far from appearing. I am sitting in the shade of a gnarled olive tree, centuries of history branch out among its branches, giving me the most precious gift: the shade. You can hear the lazy alienating dlon-dlon of the bells of the cows in the pasture, they are looking for what little grass is left after a winter of terrible drought. Under a ruined wall of an ancient Sicilian farm, indolent, emaciated, dozing sheep huddle together in a tangle of earthy wool. A chatter of cicadas chirps in the air, getting lost in its reverberation. The thistles, now dry, swing thorny crowns in the wind, their heads swaying lightly, while butterflies and long beetles long for residual nectars.

We are waiting hopefully for an evanescent ghost, a cerulean-white flicker that slowly, as if dissolving in the tremulous heat, is disappearing ever faster: the Lanner (Falco biarmcius feldeggii), the rarest of the Palearctic birds of prey, one of the rarest and most endangered birds in Europe and far beyond . Suddenly, flotillas of pigeons seem to explode amidst the stolid and funereal screams of mad hooded crows, carried away like leaves in the gusts of the sirocco; an adult female Lanner falls like a guillotine onto the scaffold, while the male seizes the unfortunate pigeon left behind in an inexorable grip. In a flash, destiny has been fulfilled, the sky has paid its tribute of blood and feathers, the beak and claws of the falcon are closed on the dying prey. A wedding gift for his female. And in fact she arrives, and immediately accepts that still warm body of the defenseless pigeon. She first lands on a wrinkled fence post, a few meters away the male anxiously watches her. The black squadrons in gray vests arrive, the hooded crows, always insolent and annoying. They fly onto a pylon, where while the female Lanner feeds, the wary male watches over that precious casket of eggs, a faint hope for a dark future. Our hearts tremble like the last vital tremors of the prey, moved by the magical show, circus pirouettes of winged creatures that are now increasingly difficult to observe. Through the crystalline lenses of our Leica Noctivid 10×42 and the Apo-Televid 82 spotting scope, we observe the two lanners, wondering how much longer we will be able to enjoy such a privilege.

This is why I use Leica instruments, so that I can have the sensation of being there with them, of being able to almost touch them, preserving their essence forever.

Every single feather moved by the wind, every movement of the chestnut-crowned head, every flutter of wings, flying against the sky or the distant plowed fields in the background. Let’s try to fix in our memory the ice-cerulean reflections of the very fresh plumage of the upper parts, the white of the male’s chest, the dark bars, the dark bar across the underwings, the silhouette with the long wings raised from the carpal joint towards the tip. In the future, we may not be as lucky, in the not too distant future. Angelo Scuderi and I toured 15 well-known sites in ten days, and we only found two couples in their place. A trickle that repeats itself every year. A slow decline towards eternal oblivion, towards extinction. Not only our children, but we ourselves could witness the Lanner passing from this wonderful, little , lonely planet lost in the infinite universe.

The biggest and that with the most extensive dark markings of all the subspecies of Lanner, the Falco biarmicus feldeggii resembles more a Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) for its dimension and general impression (the jizz) rather than a Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus peregrinus and F.p.brookei); however, on its distribution range, this falcon should be identified and distinguished from Saker (Falco cherrug) and Peregrine, as Gyrfalcon do not overlap in the usual breeding range. Suggested reading are Corso (2000,2001), Corso et al. (2017) and Leonardi (2015).

It is identified for:
Always for its jizz (general impression, shape and structure)  with longer and broader wings, narrow tail at the base but wider in the distal area, massive build. While soaring,  it held  the “hand” (the primaries) raised upwards from the carpal joint, while gliding it has flat or slightly raised wings; the Peregrine falcon held the wings flat when soaring, and slightly arched when gliding. Saker falcon has a very similar jizz, and it is difficult to distinguish in general, although on average it appears more corpulent and heavier, more massive, with slower flight, shallower and lazier wing-beats.

ADULTS: whiter underneath than the Peregrine Falcon, with dark bars more visible and well marked along the flanks (less extensive dark markings over breast, belly and vent), very white underwing with a more (female) or less (male) wide and conspicuous dark band that crosses it diagonally (along the greater coverts). More grey-cerulean upperparts compared to  the Mediterranean Peregrine falcons, similar to the Northern Peregrine falcons, although when abraded these appear darker and browner, mainly in the female and especially on the “shoulders”, scapulars, mantle and neck. If observed from a not too far distance, immediately recognizable by the very narrow mustache and the rusty-red nape and eyebrow. Some adult Sakers, especially from the Eastern populations, are very similar but usually darker and more rusty barred above (with less extensive and clear pale barring), and with darker flanks and/or thigh-feathers, these being more dark-spotted and less barred.

Adult male (left) and adult female (right): note the greater extent and width of the dark pattern on the lower parts of the female.

JUVENILE: distinguished in flight from the Peregrine falcon by the two-coloured underwing, with the dark coverts contrasting visibly with the lighter remiges, chest markedly dark streaked roughly which contrasts greatly with the light vent-belly and the undertail coverts, generally ocher or dirty white – strawberry. When perched, even the most similar of the young peregrine falcons (ssp. calidus) with narrow whiskers and “blond” nape-vertex, always shows some barring on the sides and subcaudal feathers, where the Lanario has only dark longitudinal streaks or homogeneous feathers , without dark bar, anchor or arrow designs as in the Pellegrino. The Sacred juv is extremely similar but has on average more reddish upper parts, in the darker underwing the base of the “hand” (external primary base) stands out which is lighter and more contrasting, darker sides and shoes, more grey-blue feet and more ungo (for a short period after fledging some lanars may show bluish or greyish feet, but they soon become yellow ocher).


Massa et al. (1991) and Gustin et al. (2002) estimated the Italian breeding population of Lanner at approximately 170–200+ pairs (of which 80–90 for Sicily). Andreotti & Leonardi (2007) and Andreotti et al. (2008) updated the figure to 140–172 pairs (70–80 for Sicily) (Fig.1, Tab.1).

Fig. 1: Overall population of Lanner falcon Falco biarmicus feldeggii in Italy and approximate ranges of diffusion in the period of the 90s of the twentieth century and in 2015. Note the contraction of the range and the visible decrease in the total number of nesting pairs (numbers in red) (various sources; various authors; Course, 2018). NB: the extension of the breeding areas, in green, is only approximate and merely serves to give an idea of how much the population has become fragmented.
Tab. 1: Estimates of the number of pairs of Lanario feldeggii throughout its distribution range according to various authors as of 2017 (from Corso, 2018).

Leonardi (2015) repeats the same figure of 140–172 pairs while the number provided by Allavena et al. (2015) in a large region-by-region review provides a lower estimate of 123-152 pairs (65 in Sicily) (Tab.1). Corso (2018), in the most updated and detailed review of the distribution and status of the Lanner in the Western Palearctic, reports 60-80 pairs, maximum just over 100 (30-50 in Sicily) (Tab.1). From studies by the GTR (Group for the Protection of Birds of Prey) and personal observations, the number of pairs has further decreased to 45-73 in 2018-2019 (Fig.2)

Fig. 2: Overall population of Lanner falcon Falco biarmicus feldeggii in Italy and approximate distribution areas in the period 2018-2019. Note the noticeable contraction in the distribution area and in the overall number of breeding pairs (45-73) compared to the 130-150 estimated in 2015 (various sources; various authors; Corso, 2018).

and only 27-44 breeding pairs (a greater number of occupied territories , but without evidence of reproduction) remained in 2022-2023 (Fig.3). During a recent further study by De Santis et al. (2023), 240 historic sites were checked, of which 36 (15%) were found to be occupied. 66.66% occupied by 24 couples (of which 62.5% led to the fledging of the chicks), 33.37% (12) instead by single territorial individuals. The remaining sites were instead occupied by the Peregrine Falcon and/or Common Raven (55.88%), unoccupied (36.28%) or occupied by other rock species (7.84%). Only a quarter of the occupied sites were located within protected areas and only half within sites of EU importance (SPAs or SACs).

Fig. 3: Overall population of Lanner falcon Falco biarmicus feldeggii in Italy in the period 2022-2023. Note the dramatic decrease in the overall number of breeding pairs (29-41) (GTR; various online sources; pers. obs.; various authors).

Estimated at 250-500 pairs, the global population of Lanner ssp. feldeggii in the early 2000s and still around 400-460+ in 2015 (e.g. Leonardi, 2015). Corso (2018), however, believes that these estimates are flawed by numerous errors in determination and method, especially for the population of Turkey, overestimates reiterated without verification from all the previous bibliography: he therefore updates the overall number to 120-172 total reproductive pairs (and no more than 257 known occupied territories) (Tab1).

The number of couples appears to have further decreased dramatically to 100-121 in 2023 (max. 166+), although targeted and more in-depth studies are lacking, for example for Azerbaijan (Tab.2).



Breeding couples




very negative


20 ?



20+ (50?)



20+ (35?)



5 ?




very negative























100-121+ (166+)

very negative

Tab. 2: Estimates of the number of breeding pairs of Lanner falcon (Falco biarmcius feldeggii) in its overall distribution range updated to 2023 (GTR; pers. obs.; various online sources).


Incredibly, BirdLife International, in its latest revision of the Red List, reports it as LC (Least Concern); this is due, as regards the ssp. feldeggii (of interest to us in this note), to the continuous reporting of an absurd overestimate of 200-500 pairs from Turkey (based on data from the early 1900s proven to be erroneous) and to an estimate of 50-100 pairs per Azerbaijan, based on who knows what data and from what source (and completely contrary to numerous recent observations which report only a handful of breeding pai1rs and scattered observation in the last 10 years by all birdwatchers visiting this country. For ex. eBird source and Birding Azerbaijan team com. pers.). Furthermore, for the risk categories, unfortunately BirdLife takes into consideration the entire global population of a species and not the individual taxa, and therefore the different recognized subspecies. These should instead be considered separately if nothing else from the more distinctive and separate ones both morphologically and genetically such as the ssp. feldeggii (Attili, et al. 2023).

There is no single cause of decline (as many ornithologists are struggling to find) but a series of contributing causes of impact and therefore of decline, all synergistic and linked together, which contribute, each obviously to varying degrees, to cause a contraction of the breeding areas and the number of Lanner pairs, both in Europe and in North Africa and the Middle East and beyond. There has been discussion for a long time (too much, as there is in fact more endless discussion than concrete action) on what the causes are, from falconry and habitat loss (e.g. Grubač & Velevski, 2010, Di Vittorio et al. 2015, 2017, Corso , 2018, De Rosa et al. 2017) through climate change, use of pesticides and glyphosate, bacterial and viral infections (e.g. Leonardi, 2015, Sara et al. 2022). In general, the various causes of decline can be summarized as follows: 1) Illegal falconry; 2) Habitat Loss (excessive use and consumption of land, intensive agriculture, destruction of steppe habitats, photovoltaic fields, wind fields, etc.); 3) Climate changes (especially average temperatures and rainfall in February-March); 4) Direct anthropogenic disturbance (e.g. climbing, photography); 5) Wind farms (impact against the blades, habitat destruction, disturbance, etc.); 5) Use of glyphosate, pesticides etc; 6) Parasitoses (e.g. chlamydia, especially in young birds) and viruses (avian flou – both on prey and on falcons); 7) probable competition with the Peregrine Falcon; 8) disaggregation of meta-populations; 9) natural contraction of species at the peak of evolution.

With a continuous decrease in reproductive pairs, whatever the causes, now reduced to a seriously worrying number, it is clear that the future of this wonderful species appears truly dark and its fate practically sealed. It is certainly the taxon most at risk of extinction of all Palearctic avifauna. All protectionist associations should commit themselves, and form a united front, to ensure that everything is done to stem as many causes of negative impact and decline as possible, at least those of human origin. To do this, however, BirdLife International and the IUCN should certainly change the status of the Lanner from Least Concern to Critically Endangered. In fact, the species suffers not only in Eurasia, but certainly also in North Africa and partly in central-south Africa (Corso, 2018).

I wish to thanks Angelo Scuderi and Andrea Ciaccio, for all field observation together, for showing me several left breeding pairs of this majestic raptor, for the great time in the field. LEICA of course is thanked as always for the unbeatable optical instruments given to me for the field work. Massimiliano Di Vittorio and a long list of other Italian ornithologists and birders are also thanked for their data, help etc. This note is dedicated to the memory of my father Filippo Corso, the most generous, the most altruistic, the sweetest human being that one could have the fortune of meeting and knowing, my guide, my beacon and my light. Dad, I will always love you.

List of sources

Allavena S., Andreotti A., Corsetti L. & Sigismondi A., (Eds.), 2015. Il Lanario in Italia: problemi e prospettive.
Atti del convegno, Marsico Nuovo, 29/30 novembre 2014. Special issue of Edizioni Belvedere, Latina, Le Scienze, 72 pp.
Attili L, Garofalo L, Puddu G, Tirone G, Pizzarelli A, Barbara N, et al. 2023. Geneticdistinctiveness of an endangered falcon: Implications for conservation in Europe. PLoS ONE 18(12): e0295424.
BirdLife International, 2024.  Species factsheet: Falco biarmicus. Downloaded from on 15/02/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 15/02/2024.
Brunelli M. & Sarrocco S., 2017. Evoluzione delle popolazioni di Lanario Falco biarmicus e Falco Pellegrino Falco peregrinus nidificanti nel Lazio. Fasano S.G. & Rubolini D. (Eds.), Riassunti del XIX CIO, Torino. Tichodroma, 6: 25–26.
Corso A., 2000. Identification of European Lanner. Birding World, 13: 200–213.
Corso A., 2001. Biologie, Verbreitung und Bestimmung des Lannerfalken Falco biarmicus in Europa. Limicola,
15: 1–41.
Corso A., 2013. Il Lanario Falco biarmicus feldeggii nel Parco Nazionale della Majella, Abruzzo. Resoconto per la redazione del Piano di gestione dei Siti Rete Natura 2000, ai sensi del programma di sviluppo rurale 2007/2013 – misura 323. Intervento al sottointervento a1.b. Punto A del Bando: Attività su Falco biarmicus, Aquila chrysaetos, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, Falco peregrinus.
Corso A., Viganò M. & Starnini L., 2017. Sexing Lanner Falcon in the field. Dutch Birding, 39: 308–322.
Corso A., 2018. Updated status of European Lanner Falcon, Falco biarmicus feldeggii (Schlegel, 1843) (Aves Falconiformes): a taxon on the verge of extinction, with brief comments on the North African Lanner, F. biarmicus erlangeri (Kleinschimdt, 1901). Biodiversity Journal  9: 35–44.
De Lisio L., Corso A., Carafa M. & De Rosa D., 2015. Trend della popolazione nidificante di Lanario Falco
biarmicus feldeggii e Pellegrino Falco peregrinus brookei in Molise e dati sulle interazioni interspecifiche. In: Tinarelli R., Andreotti A., Baccetti N., Melega L., Roscelli F., Serra L. & Zenatello M. (Eds.),  Atti XVI Convegno Italiano di Ornitologia. Cervia (RA), 22-25 settembre 2011. Scritti, Studi e Ricerche di Storia Naturale della Repubblica di San Marino, 345–347.
De Rosa D., Di Febbraro M., De Lisio L., De Sanctis A. & Loy A., 2017. Il declino del Lanario Falco biarmicus feldeggii in Italia centro-meridionale: competizione o perdita di habitat? Fasano S.G. & Rubolini D. (Eds.), Riassunti del XIX CIO, Torino. Tichodroma, 6: 25.
Di Vittorio M.D., Ciaccio A., Grenci S. & Luiselli L., 2015. Ecological Modelling of the distribution of the Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus feldeggii in Sicily at two Spatial Scales. Ardeola, 62: 81–94.
Di Vittorio M., Di Trapani E., Cacopardi S., Rannisi G., Falci A., Ciaccio A., Sarto A., Merlino S., Zafarana M., Grenci G., Salvo M., Lo Valvo, Scuderi A., Murabito L., La Grua G., Cortone G., Patti N., Luiselli L. & López-López P., 2017. Population size and breeding performance of the Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus in Sicily: conservation implications. Bird Study, 64: 339–343.
Grubač B. & Velevski M., 2010. The Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus in Macedonia. Falco, 35: 9–11.
Leonardi G., 2015. The Lanner falcon. Privately published.
Pezzo F., Chiancianesi G., Cutini S., Fabbrizzi F., Grilli G., Nardi R. & Paesani G., 2016. Rapporto sullo status del Lanario Falco biarmicus feldeggii in Toscana 2014–2016. Picus, 42: 132–136.
Sarà M., Mascara R., Nardo A. & Zanca L., 2022. Climate effects on breeding phenology of Peregrine and Lanner Falcons in the Mediterranean. Ardea 110 (3): 1-18.  doi:10.5253/arde.2022.a2

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