Fall with thousands of Red-footed Falcons

Although it may seem fairy-tale at first hearing, the gathering of falcons is an existing natural phenomenon during autumn. We have been following it for 13 years in the western part of Romania. However this year, we set off to find gathering places in the Romanian plain, in the Bărăgan as well.

The results of the survey met our preliminary expectations. Most Red-footed Falcons, 2,470 specimens, were seen on the border of Brăila and Ialomița counties. In addition, the number of the birds was also exceptionally high in other roosting sites too (for example: 1900, 1585, and about 850 in 3 places).

In five days, we counted a total of 10 000 Red-footed Falcons in 14 overnighting locations, but we also recorded 1500 Red-footed Falcons in 87 different locations during the daytime. During the survey we also recorded other bird species in the OpenBirdMaps database. The result is: 125 species and more than 71 000 specimens. In addition we also recorded nests, nesting sites, and roadkills too. The survey area was far and wide, the 5 teams travelled more than 6600 km.

There are several migratory routes through Romania. The significant gathering places are mostly in the southern lowlands of the country. Masses of falcons rest and prepare for the migration there. There are two main migratory routes in Romania. There is one in the west. It goes through the Great Hungarian Plain, and the second one lies on the east side of the country, it goes through between the Carpathians and the Black Sea, and it touches the Bărăgan Plain and Dobrudja. However, there are also secondary routes which are used by less specimens, such as the upper section of the Olt river, which passes through the Csíki Basin and the Brașov Basin.

At these gathering places, not just those specimens gather which breed in the given area or in the country, but also a lot of birds arrive there from Eastern Europe and Asia. The Ukrainian, Russian, and Kazakh steppes and wooded steppes, which are the eastern part of the range, are characterised by a continental climate where the autumn time is harder than in the Carpathian Basin or the plains of the west of the Black Sea. Probably, this is the reason why these eastern Red-footed Falcons prepare for the migration in southwestern Ukraine, southeastern Romania, and in the Great Plain regions of the Carpathian Basin (mainly in Hungary, Romania, and Serbia).

In Bărăgan and Dobrudja, we now know a lot of gathering places where a lot of Red-footed Falcons are, and we assume that a significant part of the world population migrates between the Carpathians and the Black Sea, which is not a negligible fact.

The migration of Red-footed Falcons is difficult due to several obstacles, such as the Mediterranean Sea, the Sahara, or the tropical rainforests of West Africa. The more physically prepared the birds are, the less death will be during this long journey and more specimens will return to the breeding grounds. We believe that Romania has a significant responsibility in conservation of the species. It is important for the birds to have sufficient food around the gathering places and to have undisturbed roosting sites. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Tree felling and intensive agriculture also affect the quality of resting places. The effects of climate change are not helping in these areas either. Due to this year’s extreme drought, there was less insect food available for the falcons, making it difficult for them to properly prepare for the trip.

If we want to ensure the protection of the Red-footed Falcons gathering places, we must first know where those are. We have been following their movements during autumn on the western border for the past 13 years, but we have little information from the eastern part of Romania, although we were aware that this is also a significant area. We will not stop and next year we will continue our survey! In a later post, we also will report about the results on the western migratory route.

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