Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The Mauritius kestrel feeds mainly on small lizards, particularly geckos of the genus Phelsuma, although insects and small birds are also taken (9). It hunts by flying quietly through the forest canopy and then rushing the quarry, (2) or by executing strikes from a perch, or chasing prey on the ground (7). It is a territorial species that nests in the rock cavities of cliff faces; recently the kestrel has started to nest in nest boxes (7). Pairs are monogamous throughout the breeding season (8) and typically produce a clutch of four to five eggs in November or December (8). Incubation takes between 38 and 39 days, and the juveniles stay within their natal territory until the next breeding season (7).
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Description

The Mauritius kestrel is a small falcon that was rescued from the brink of extinction by a world-renowned conservation programme (4). It is small, with relatively short wings, a long tail and long legs (5), which bear short talons (6). The upperparts are a rich brown colour with black barring, and the underparts are white with dark spots (5). Juveniles have bluish-grey facial skin, which turns yellow after a year. The sexes are similar in appearance (7), although the males are noticeably smaller (4). The call is a repeated 'toee tooee' or a shorter 'tooit tooit' (4).
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Distribution

Range Description

Falco punctatus, restricted to Mauritius, has undergone a spectacular recovery from just four wild birds (including one breeding pair [Burgess 2005]) in 1974 (Safford and Jones 1997, Burgess 2005). By the end of the 1994 breeding season there were an estimated 222-286 birds in the population, following a successful recovery programme launched in 1973 (Nicoll et al. 2004). At the end of the 1999-2000 season, the population was estimated at the time to number 145-200 breeding pairs and a total population of 500-800 individuals (C. Jones in litt. 2000), divided into three subpopulations on mountain chains in the north, east and south-west of Mauritius (Jones and Swinnerton 1997). In 2007-2008 the population was estimated at 500-600 individuals by Dale (2008); 800-1,000 individuals were estimated in 2005 (Burgess 2005, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in litt. 2006) but it is now thought unlikely that the population ever approached 1,000 (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012), and may have only peaked at 350-500 individuals at the end of the 1990s (C. Jones in litt. 2012). By 2011-2012 the population was estimated to number c400 individuals, with the small subpopulation in the Moka Range in the north of the island apparently extinct, and declines observed in the south-western population, particularly in suboptimal habitat on the periphery of the range, since 2007-2008 (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012). The eastern population is stable and appears to be limited by nesting sites to around 40 pairs; the population remains dependent on conservation measures (Groombridge et al. 2001) and there is no record of dispersal to other locations despite intensive monitoring through colour ringing (Ewing et al. 2008, Senapathi et al. 2011).

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Range

Dense forests of sw Mauritius (w Indian Ocean).

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Geographic Range

Falco punctatus, also known as the Mauritius Kestrel, are unique to the island of Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Madagascar. They have also been found in the neighboring Mascarene Islands.

Biogeographic Regions: indian ocean (Native )

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Historic Range:
Indian Ocean_Mauritius

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Range

This kestrel is endemic to Mauritius, and was once widespread throughout the island. (5). However, by 1974 the population numbered just six individuals (two of which were in captivity), and the species was the most endangered raptor in the world (8). Presently numbers appear stable and the species has been downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) (4).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

F. punctatus are small brown falcons with short wings and long tails. Mauritius Kestrels have black eyes and tapered wings, with patches of different shades of brown. The underside plumage is predominantly white interrupted with occasional dark-brown speckles. Their talons are small and delicate. This species of kestrel is more sexually dimorphic in size than other kestrels. (Temple, 1987)

Range mass: 200 to 250 g.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Its primary habitat was native, evergreen, subtropical forests, but captive-bred birds have shown greater tolerance for degraded and open areas (Jones 1998, Carter and Jones 1999). They are no longer considered obligate forest dwellers but also exploit grassland (Burgess et al. 2009). Avoidance of agricultural areas may be partly due to a lack of isolated mature trees to use as vantage points (Burgess et al. 2009). It preys mainly on endemic arboreal Phelsuma day-geckos, as well as small birds, insects, and introduced mice and shrews (Temple 1977, Jones 1987). It traditionally nests in volcanic rock-cavities, and probably tree-holes, within forest territories (Temple 1977, Jones 1987), but now even breeds in a few suburban areas (Jones and Swinnerton 1997).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Mauritius Kestrels originally were found in the tropical forests of the Black River Gorges but, with rapid habitat depletion, they have been introduced to and have adapted to the rocky forests and adjacent scrubby areas of the Bambous Mountains and on Moka Mountain. (Collar, 1994)

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest

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Previously inhabited the once widespread evergreen forests in Mauritius. Today, released individuals show a greater tolerance for degraded habitats and open areas (4).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Their diet primarily consists of arboreal geckos that are captured through a specialized hunting behavior known as "sun-oriented attacks". This predator also eats small birds, small rodents and insectivores, and various insects. The types of prey consumed by each sex may differ. (Temple, 1987)

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Life History and Behavior

Reproduction

Mauritius Kestrels are monogamous during the breeding cycle. They nest in forest trees, but recently nestboxes have been introduced. The clutch size averages four to five eggs. The eggs are speckled brown oval-shaped eggs. The incubation period is 28 to 35 days, and the young are cared for in the nest for as long as 35 days. Clutches are usually laid during the months of November and December. (Village, 1990)

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
D1+2

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Jones, C. & Tatayah, V.

Justification
This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a very small population, susceptible to a variety of threats. It has sustained population increases in recent years owing to intensive conservation efforts, but the population has apparently declined again since and has been lost from parts of its range. Confirmation that it is undergoing a continuing decline will likely lead to its uplisting to Endangered in the near future.


History
  • 2012
    Vulnerable
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Falco punctatus , see its USFWS Species Profile

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At one point in the 1970's, the Mauritius Kestrels were the most endangered bird of prey in the world with a reported four surviving birds in the wild. It is still the rarest falcon in the world. They were officially declared an endangered species in 1973. Since then, an intense conservation and captive breeding program was created by the Wildlife Preservation Trust in collaboration with the Mauritius government. This program consists of feeding of wild birds, providing nestboxes, multiple clutching, egg pulling, artificial incubation, hand rearing and release of captive-bred and captive-reared birds by hacking, fostering, and predator control. These captive-bred birds have been successfully introduced to non-native habitats. Due to its outstanding successes, the release program ended in 1994, but conservationists have been consistently monitoring this area in hopes to reach the carrying capacity of the island, estimated to be 500-600 kestrels. (Jones, 1994)

The main problems that this species have dealt with, and are still dealing with, is habitat destruction and unregulated use of pesticides in the 1950's and 1960's. Due to deforestation beginning since 1756 under colonial French control only 3% of this island has indigenous tropical forest. This is the native habitat of the kestrels. The other problem has been the unregulated use of pesticides known as organochlorines for malaria control and in food crop production. With the addition of these pesticides to the ecosystem, they poisoned the natural food supply of the Mauritius Kestrel.

(Safford, 1997)

US Federal List: endangered

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable

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Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and Appendix I of CITES (3).
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Population

Population
In 2005, the population was estimated at 800-1,000 individuals (V. Tatayah in litt. 2006), roughly equivalent to 530-670 mature individuals, however in 2011/2012 this was revised downwards to just 400 birds, including c250-300 mature individuals (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012).

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Deforestation by early colonists initiated declines - less than 3% of original forest now remains (Cade and Jones 1993). More recent declines appear related to organochloride pesticide-use in the 1950s and 1960s in agriculture and to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes (Cheke 1987a, Safford and Jones 1997). Black rats Rattus rattus, crab-eating macaques Macaca fascicularis, small Indian mongooses Herpestes javanicus and feral cats are all introduced predators of eggs, young or adults (Cade and Jones 1993, C. Jones in litt. 2000). Introduced plants including traveller's palm Ravenala madagascariensis, Chinese guava Psidium cattleianum, Ligustrum robustum and the creeper Hiptage benghalensis have invaded much of the species's habitat, particularly in the north of the island (Burgess et al. 2008, Cade 2008). This may reduce the kestrel's hunting efficiency (Cade 2008). Birds in suboptimal habitat in the west have been lost when natural nest sites are absent (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012). In addition the species suffered extreme loss of genetic variation and high rates of inbreeding, due to the population bottleneck, which are considered sufficient to affect the long-term viability of the population (Ewing et al. 2008). Climate change may be affecting the species through the increase in wet days at the start of the breeding season leading to laying date becoming later (Senapathi et al. 2011).

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The main cause of the catastrophic decline of the population of Mauritius kestrels was the destruction of a huge amount of the native forest habitat (2). Introduced predators such as black rats (Rattus rattus), feral cats (Felis catus), and mongooses (Herpestes auropunctatus), also took their toll (8). In the mid 20th Century, pesticides such as DDT were widely used on the island and this further decimated the population (10); predators such as the kestrel that are at the top of the food chain are particularly susceptible to the build up of these chemicals. By 1974, only four birds remained in the wild (10), and this minute population was incredibly vulnerable.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. A recovery programme, at first concentrating on research, was initiated in 1973 (Nicoll et al. 2004). From 1984 to 1994, an intensive management programme significantly increased population numbers. Activities included captive propagation and restocking, supplementary feeding, nest-site enhancement, provision of nest boxes, nest guarding, control of predators around nest- and release-sites, clutch manipulations, brood manipulations, treatment of parasite infestations on chicks and the rescue of eggs/young from failing nests (C. Jones in litt. 2000). In the late 1980s, the species was re-introduced into the Bambous mountain range by release of captive-reared birds, and subsequent evidence suggests that there was no discernable difference between the survival rate of these birds and those bred in the wild (Nicoll et al. 2004). Since 1994, there has been no release of captive-bred birds (Jones 1998) and little active conservation management (Jones and Swinnerton 1997), although provision of nest-boxes and monitoring of survival and productivity continue (Burgess 2005). A few pairs still receive supplementary food to enable detailed behavioural studies and for public relations purposes (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Research is ongoing into genetic variation so that populations can be managed to preserve genetic diversity (Jones and Swinnerton 1997, Groombridge et al. 2000, Groombridge et al. 2001, Ewing et al. 2008). In October 2005, it was announced that plans for the construction of a highway through the east coast mountains IBA had been cancelled, with a different route to be used (Anon. 2006). The construction of the highway would have damaged the south-eastern forest, home to about half the species's world population, centred around Ferney Valley, which has now become a conservation area (Anon. 2006, V. Tatayah in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue detailed population and ecological studies (C. Jones in litt. 2000), particularly using molecular techniques to monitor population size (Groombridge et al. 2001). Eventually, consider translocating birds to islands such as Réunion, although not until the endangered reptile populations on those islands are secure elsewhere (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Continue and expand provision of improved long-lasting nest boxes, particularly in the western population where natural nesting sites are lacking, and restart captive breeding and reintroduction.

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Conservation

The Mauritius kestrel has been the subject of an extremely successful conservation programme that rescued the species from what was almost certain extinction. The project was supported by the Government of Mauritius, the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust International (now known as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Peregrine Fund (9). Measures taken have included artificial incubation, hand rearing, the release of captive reared birds into the wild and supplementary feeding (10). By 1994, 331 birds had been released into the wild, and the re-introduction programme ceased, although monitoring continued (4). This spectacular recovery resulted in the species being downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red list 2000 (4). The recovery of the Mauritius kestrel is an inspiring example of what determined conservation programmes can achieve.
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Wikipedia

Mauritius kestrel

The Mauritius Kestrel (Falco punctatus) is a bird of prey from the family Falconidae endemic to the forests of Mauritius, where it is restricted to the southwestern plateau's forests, cliffs, and ravines.[2] It is the most distinct of the Indian Ocean kestrels. It colonized its island home to evolve into a distinct species probably during the Gelasian (Late Pliocene[3]). It is the most distant living species among the western Indian Ocean kestrels (Groombridge et al. 2002, qv Réunion Kestrel).

Description[edit]

It can reach a size between 26 and 30.5 cm. The weight is up to 250 grams. The males are slightly smaller than the females. Wingspan is approximately 45 cm and wings are rounded, unlike those of other falcons.[2] The lifespan is 15 years in captivity. The Mauritius Kestrel hunts by means of short, swift flights through forests.[2] It is carnivorous, eating geckos, dragonflies, cicadas, cockroaches, crickets, and small birds.[2]

Conservation[edit]

The story of this bird is one of the most remarkable conservation stories. In pre-colonial time the population was estimated between 175 and 325 breeding pairs. This small population was caused most likely by deforestation in the 18th century and by cyclones. But the most severe decline was in the 1950s and 1960s due to indiscriminate DDT use and invasive species like cats, mongooses and Crab-eating Macaques which killed the kestrels and their eggs. What was probably this species' closest relative in recent times, the Réunion Kestrel, became extinct around 1700 for fairly mysterious reasons.

The recorded population dropped to an all-time low of only 4 individuals in 1974 and it was considered the rarest bird in the world. Stanley Temple from Cornell University studied this species for two years and the first attempt in 1973 to breed the birds in captivity failed because the hatchling died when the incubator had a breakdown. Though conservation measures were immediately undertaken with the help of a breeding program by the Jersey Zoo (now Durrell Wildlife Park), the efforts to rescue this species initially failed because the eggs were not fertile.

In 1979 a new attempt was undertaken. With the help of Gerald Durrell, the Welsh biologist Carl Jones established a wildlife sanctuary on Ile aux Aigrettes. He climbed on the trees and removed the eggs from the nests. This time the eggs were fertile, and Jones was able to rear the hatchlings in incubators. The wild kestrels' diet was supplemented so they would be able to lay a new egg after the first one was removed, averting any negative impact on the wild population. Slowly the population increased and during a census in 1984 50 individuals were estimated. Techniques for breeding, release, and "hacking" of young birds were improved, the captive breeding center becoming a pioneering research institution for tropical raptor and small falcon conservation. The captive breeding programme was scaled back in the early 1990s as a self-sustaining population was established. Since 1994, the programme serves only as a safeguard, should some catastrophe befall the wild population, and other rare endemics are now being cared for at the station (such as the Pink Pigeon or the Mauritius Fody).

In 2005, there were at least 800 mature birds; it is estimated that the remaining habitat allows for a carrying capacity of maybe 50-150 more (BirdLife International 2006a,b). They occur in the remaining forests of the island, especially in the Black River Gorges region. The species was downlisted to Vulnerable by the IUCN in 1994 as releases of captive-bred birds became unnecessary. Little conservation action was deemed necessary only two decades - in Mauritius Kestrel terms, a long lifetime or maybe 4-5 generations - after the species had stood at the very brink of extinction. Today, apart from routine monitoring to be able to assist individual couples that fail to establish breeding territories for lack of nesting facilities - a major limiting factor[citation needed], the ongoing control of introduced predators is basically all that is being done to assist the species' survival (BirdLife International 2006a,b).

In 2014, the species was uplisted to Endangered due to a decline in a once increasing population. It is believed that there are less than 400 mature birds alive in the wild.

While some apparent inbreeding depression was noted in the captive birds[citation needed], it was certainly lower than might be expected given that the effective population size was maybe 5 individuals during the mid-1970s. It is known that several genetic lineages of Mauritius Kestrels have disappeared entirely during the 20th century population decline[citation needed]. However, the debilitating effects of DDT accumulation on the birds' health, and not inbreeding, are considered to have been the major cause for the failure of Temple's breeding program[citation needed].

The evolutionary history of the birds seems to hold clues as to why (Groombridge et al. 2002): Mauritius is a volcanic island, and although the colonization of the island by kestrels cannot be dated with high precision, it was almost certainly some time before volcanic activity died down. The Mauritius Kestrel population seems to have survived a prolonged period of volcanic activity, which must have kept the population small and fluctuating as habitat, food, and kestrels were destroyed by volcanic eruptions time and again. As near-panmictic conditions were sustained for many generations, alleles that might cause inbreeding depression were steadily removed by means of natural selection. The phenomenon that effective population sizes as low as 4-5 can be tolerated without pronounced inbreeding depression is also known from other small-island birds, such as Petroica traversi or the Laysan Duck.

The classification as an Endangered species is due to the same fact: on an island as small as Mauritius, chance events like volcanic eruptions (hardly likely in our time) or storms (common and possibly increasing in frequency and strength) can always wipe out major parts of a species' population (BirdLife International 2006a,b).

References[edit]

  • Diamond, Anthony W.& Roger Tory Peterson Institute (RTPI) (1989): Save the Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. ISBN 0-395-51172-0
  • Erritzoe, Johannes & Erritzoe, Helga (1993): The Birds of CITES and How to Identify Them. Lutterworth Press. ISBN 0-7188-2895-X
  • Ferguson-Lees, James & Christie, David A. (2001): Raptors of the World. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. ISBN 0-618-12762-3
  • Groombridge, Jim J.; Jones, Carl G.; Bayes, Michelle K.; van Zyl, Anthony J.; Carrillo, José; Nichols, Richard A. & Bruford, Michael W. (2002): A molecular phylogeny of African kestrels with reference to divergence across the Indian Ocean. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 25(2): 267–277. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00254-3 (HTML abstract)
  • Staub, France (1976): Birds of the Mascarenes and Saint Brandon

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2013). "Falco punctatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Ellis, Richard (2004). No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species. New York: Harper Perennial. p. 279. ISBN 0-06-055804-0. 
  3. ^ Possibly to be moved to the Early Pleistocene. See Groombridge et al. (2002) for a thorough discussion of this species' recent evolutionary history.
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