Black Falcon Falco subniger Scientific name definitions

Stephen Debus
Version: 2.0 — Published March 17, 2023


Systematics History

Falco subniger G. R. Gray, 1843, Annals and Magazine of Natural History 11:371.—“Australia.” The specimen was inferred by Mathews (23) to be from Victoria, but there is no firm evidence in support of this supposition (24), and it could have come from anywhere in the interior of the nascent colony of “New South Wales.”

The holotype, an unsexed adult purchased from the dealer Warwick, is held at the Natural History Museum, Tring (NHMUK 1839.12.18.20) (25). It had lain in the then British Museum unrecognized as a different species, possibly having been overlooked as an unusually dark Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), until Gray named it (26).

Notofalco subniger minnie Mathews, 1915, Austral Avian Record 2:127.—Minnie Downs, central Queensland. The holotype is an adult male collected by Carl Lumholtz on 6 January 1882, originally in the possession of Professor Robert Collett, then Gregory Mathews, and now held at the American Museum of Natural History, New York (AMNH 537096) (27, 28).

Geographic Variation

None known or documented. There may be regional variation in the proportion of the lighter plumage types (pale head and face, ventral speckling, barred underwings and undertail), but this possibility remains to be investigated.



Related Species

Black Falcon appears to be sister to Laggar Falcon (Falco jugger) of the Indian Subcontinent, and forms part of the hierofalcon clade of “great” or “desert” falcons that also includes the Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus) (29). Black Falcon, Laggar Falcon, Lanner Falcon, and Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) together appear to form a clade with Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus); these five species are very closely related, and exhibit very low levels of genetic divergence, and the relationships among these species are not well resolved. Genetic work (29) also refutes an earlier hypothesis, based on feather proteins (30, 1, 13), that Black Falcon is part of a supposed group of "Gondwanan hobbies" that included, among others, the Australian Hobby (Falco longipennis) and Gray Falcon (Falco hypoleucos).


No hybrids known (31). Hybridization is highly unlikely, at least in the wild.


Falco is Latin for falcon. The Latin subniger means somewhat black or less than black. Thus, the scientific name describes the Black Falcon as a falcon that is not fully or properly black.

Fossil History

No specific information on Black Falcon. There are only Pleistocene fossils of Falco known in Australia (13), and the Black Falcon is not among them. Black Falcon is inferred to have last shared a common ancestor with Laggar Falcon, and to have colonized Australia, <500,000 years ago (29).

Recommended Citation

Debus, S. (2023). Black Falcon (Falco subniger), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.blafal1.02