Falco lanarius: the contorted history of a poetical archetype and a taxonomic puzzle


Among true falcons (Falco sp.), the lanner falcon (F. biarmicus), due to its rarity, has always been viewed as an ‘oddity’, even the name has a contorted history, with both common and scientific names being subject to debate. Unfortunately, the Latinisation of the common name for taxonomic purposes (F. lanarius) produced further confusion. Indeed, the old falconry term Lanier evolved independently from lanarius indicating the falcon species. In addition, the lanner falcon was often considered a very rare and possibly vagrant species in Europe. As a consequence of this scarcity, many controversial taxonomic issues arose due to the low number of occurrences in private collections and museums. Numerous sources originally published in the nineteenth century, as well as those published more recently in the twentieth century, should be very helpful in understanding many of the anomalies that have been inherited from the past, many of which remain with us today. From this historical analysis, it is possible to deduce some constraints that have strongly influenced and driven the current taxonomic position of this large falcon. In fact, in spite of the discontinuous process of classification, only a few peculiar morphological features persist today to justify the subspecies level. Thus, further in-depth morphological and genetical analyses are needed on lanner falcon subspecies.

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GL benefitted of a grant from the University of Catania (Italy) as visiting researcher at McGill University (Canada). The bibliographic research was mainly conducted at the Macdonald Campus Library and the Islamic Studies Library of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Many thanks to Rozenn Bailleul Le-Suer of the Oriental Institute of Chicago who provided help and further references for the section regarding the Ancient Egypt and Maura Andreoni for the section dealing with the Graeco-Roman period. We also acknowledge helpful comments and suggestions from two anonymous reviewers.

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Leonardi, G., Sutton, L.J. Falco lanarius: the contorted history of a poetical archetype and a taxonomic puzzle. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 22 (2020).

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  • Lanner falcon
  • Falco lanarius
  • Old falconry
  • Medieval poetry
  • Taxonomy
  • Nomenclature