Rescuing a Red-footed Falcon colony from disappearing

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Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus)

The Red-footed Falcon is our only migratory raptor species which breeds in colonies. Over the previous decades, Red-footed Falcon populations across much of its European habitat range have suffered a decrease and, for this reason, it has become a priority species in the European Union. Red-footed Falcons are unable to make their own nest, instead occupying rooks nests. As such, the destiny of Red-footed Falcon’s population is strictly related to the conservation status of Rook.

The activities of Milvus Group’s for the conservation of the Red-footed Falcons are part of a comprehensive programme, as all activities appart from any projects are conducted by this porgramme. At the moment we are working on the implementation of a POS Mediu project, within which we will prepare the management plans for six Natura 2000 sites, all designated especially for the conservation of the Red-footed Falcons. Soon we will provide information on our website about the objectives and the areas covered by this project, so stay tuned!.

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The former Red-footed Falcon colony near Tomnatic village

One of the above mentioned six sites is in the Torontal Plain, Timiș County, and it was designated to assure protection for two Red-footed Falcon colonies. One of these colonies is situated near Tomnatic village. Though numbers change each year, around 20-25 pairs of Red-footed Falcons settled here and raised their chicks, in the nests of over 200 rooks and forming the largest colony in this county. Unfortunately, this has now changed. Last winter all the poplars in which these nests were located were cut down. Throughout the surrounding area, in the western part of the Banat region, tree patches have become increasingly rare and, with the loss of these 18 poplars, there are no other similar habitats in the vicinity to offer a breeding place for such a huge colony. Now, the disappearance of the entire colony from Tomnatic village seems almost inevitable. As a result, the area will lose its value as a Natura 2000 site and the very reason for its protection.

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The cut poplars

Employees of Milvus Group involved in the conservation of the Red-footed Falcon have reported these facts to the authorities in Timiș County. We hope that the responsible ones will be indentified and punished. We are aware that this will not help the birds but it could be a step towards preventing similar cases.

We have also been working on trying to mitigate the impacts of this habitat loss on the colony and, as the birds arrived back from their wintering locations in Africa, we searched for new places for them to breed. The results of previous years’ research studies showed that generally Red-footed Falcons prefer to breed in the same colony, year after year. Birds which are already familiar, from previous years, with a food source near a particular colony have an increased success in hunting and in raising their chicks.

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Mounting artificial nestboxes

This year Milvus Group dedicated a substantial amount from its own funds making nestboxes, as a substitute for the natural nesting places in this colony. As part of other projects in previous years, many hundreds of nestboxes have been placed in the trees of the Red-footed Falcon colonies in Western Romania and the Transylvanian Plain. However, even this large quantity of nestboxes is not enough, because most of these nests are occupied by other bird species. To assure enough places for Red-footed Falcons to breed, the number of artificial nestboxes mounted in a colony has to be several times higher than the number of breeding Red-footed Falcon pairs, as a substantial amount of these nestboxes will be occupied by Kestrels, Long-eared Owls and Jackdaws.

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Mounting artificial nestboxes

This year Milvus Group covered the expenses of manufacturing 220 artificial nests, 30 of which were intended to reduce the negative impact caused by the tree cuts from Tomnatic.
One a day towards the end of April, we left Targu Mures for Timiș with an SUV full of nestboxes. Arriving to the area of the colony, it came out that 30 pairs of Rooks are stacked in the area of the felled poplars and have moved to the canopies of the willows and poplars in a nearby ranch, close to the location of the old colony. This was a good sign, and one that become even more promising when we spotted some Red-footed Falcons also occupying the Rook nests. We didn`t rest much, instead getting straight to the task of mounting 28 artificial nestboxes. Some of these we mounted on those poplars and willows, which appeared to be strong enough to hold these nests. The others we mounted on the unused medium voltage pylons that stand nearby to these trees. Now, nothing remains for us to do but keep our fingers crossed that the Red-footed Falcons stays in that area. Maybe in time, the new colony will become as strong as the old one.

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