Follow by Email

Friday, 25 June 2010

LESSER KESTREL success and increases in FRANCE

The Lesser Kestrel remains classified as a globally threatened species, its population in western Europe having declined by nearly 90% between 1950 and 1990. In recent years there has been a welcome increase in southern Europe, numbers in France having reached a nadir of just three pairs in 1983. However, by 2009 the French population had reached 259 pairs, with two new colonies now established further west along the Mediterranean hinterland from the long-established one on La Crau, close to the Camargue. These falcons are cavity nesters, and on La Crau have favoured the piles of stones which dot this semi-desert plain. However, in such sites they are very vulnerable to ground predators like snakes, polecats and foxes, and so the LPO has been working to provide nestboxes at a higher level, under the tiles of some of the disused shepherd's huts and old military buildings which are another distinctive feature of the landscape here. The fledging success rate is much better in these sites, and as a result the population had reached 150 pairs by 2009.

The second colony was discovered in 2002, when a dozen pairs were found to be breeding in a village in the Hérault département. These birds nest under the roof tiles which are such a characteristic feature of the Mediterranean villages of this part of France. Conservation work here is centred on ensuring that the proprietors of the buildings concerned do everything possible to manage their roofs in such a way that neither they nor the birds are disadvantaged. So far, things seem to be going well, with 97 pairs raising 259 young to fledging in 2009, from here and from other colonies newly founded in nearby villages.

The third main colony, in the next département west again, the Aude, is the result of a reintroduction programme. Back in the 1960s, the Massif de la Clape was home to a colony of around 40 pairs of Lesser Kestrels, but they died out during the subsequent decline of the population that affected the west European population generally. Subsequent to the spontaneous appearance of a couple of pairs in 2003, nestboxes were placed in a restored winery building and on some electricity pylons nearby and, starting in 2006, young birds from Extremadura in Spain were released close by. Happily, half of these birds returned the next spring, and again the next year, and by 2009 a dozen pairs had started breeding, producing 15 fledged young. The results for 2010 are eagerly awaited, with hopefully the return of the first young actually born at the site. The work of the LPO in this project is ongoing, and has been greatly helped by funds donated during a special appeal in the recent past – many thanks to all who contributed to that (kindly contributed by Ken Hall)