Research Highlights

Animal genetics: Birds of prey

Subject Categories: Ecology & evolution, Genetics

Published online 3 April 2013


New genomes reveal why falcons have better vision, smell and hunting abilities than other birds

Felix Cheung

© (2013) Thinkstock

Falcons are so swift and powerful that they can prey on other birds in midflight. They have evolved unique morphological, physiological and behavioural features that make them successful hunters — even in harsh environments, like mountains and deserts.

Jun Wang at BGI-Shenzhen in China, Michael Bruford at Cardiff University in the UK and co-workers1 have now sequenced the genomes of two falcon species, namely the peregrine (Falco peregrinus) and saker falcon (Falco cherrug), and compared them to those of chicken, zebra finch and turkey. They found evidence of rapid evolution in the falcon genomes and identified novel mutations in genes related to circulation, olfaction, cellular respiration and water conservation, which might well be the result of predatory adaptations.

In particular, the researchers found that falcon genomes have gained a second copy of TGFB2 (a gene upregulated in curved beaks) and Dkk2 (a gene related to longer and wider beaks in ducks). These genes may have important roles in making the falcon beak longer and more robust.

The authors of this work are from:
Organisms and Environment Division, Cardiff School of Bioscience, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK; BGI-Shenzhen, Shenzhen, China; International Wildlife Consultants, Ltd, Carmarthen, Wales, UK; Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark; and King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.


  1. Zhan, X. et al. Peregrine and saker falcon genome sequences provide insights into evolution of a predatory lifestyle. Nature Genet. 10.1038/ng.2588 (2013). | Article |