Sooty falcons in Oman

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Sooty falcon chick

The sooty falcon is a migratory, medium-sized falcon that breeds in the Middle East and north-eastern Africa and winters along the south-eastern coast of Africa and on Madagascar. In the last 10 years, published estimates of the population size have been revised downward, apparently as a result of a poor initial estimation, unwarranted changes (upward) of the population estimate, and a more critically tallied number of known breeding pairs. As a result, where some estimates of the breeding population were as high as 40,000 pairs in the early 1990’s, estimates later in that decade were as low as 1,000 pairs. This revision and recently published information on occupancy rates have contributed to the recent downgrading of the sooty falcon’s conservation status by BirdLife International to “Near- threatened”.

The first systematic survey of any breeding population of the sooty falcon was conducted in 1978 in Oman (Walter 1979), and since then the Daymaniyat Islands, Fahal Islands and the Suwaydi Islands have been considered strongholds for the species. Because of this early work, Oman is well-placed to provide early baseline data on long-term dynamics of the sooty falcon, and its ecology.  Most certainly Oman holds the largest number of breeding pairs in the Arabian Sea basin.

Since 2007 we have surveyed the sooty falcon population in Oman, establishing the distribution of the falcon across the islands on which they nest, establishing the location of nest sites and collecting data on reproductive success and diet.  27 adults and 238 chicks have been ringed during 2007-2010 with numbered and microchip rings.  In 2010 we used microchip readers and loggers to electronically recapture falcons we have fitted with microchip rings in the past.  The purchase of the loggers was made possible by a successful grant application to the Ford Foundation submitted jointly with the Environment Society of Oman.  Adults that were trapped in more than one year showed fidelity to their nesting territories in most cases.

Blood, feathers and unhatched eggs have been collected for DNA and contaminant analyses, and a collection has been made of prey remains. Details of the contaminant analyses have been presented in our reports.  Click on link below to get the latest report.

The number of occupied sites that we encountered suggest about a 15% decline in the Omani population since 1978, and that the main cause of this decline is probably human disturbance.  In 2009 we established that pairs are also breeding on the Musandam Peninsula, but rough seas kept us from accurately estimating the number of breeders there.

We have established a network with researchers in other countries, and surveys are being conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.  Recent information from the Emirates and Bahrain suggest that the breeding populations there have declined, too (Kavanaugh and King 2008, Shah et al 2008).

In 2010, in cooperation with global concepts for conservation, we fitted two sooty falcons with satellite tags.  Unfortunately, one was shot on its southward migration in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the other appears to have perished on its wintering grounds in central Madagascar sometime in January 2011.

An Omani biology student at Sultan Qaboss University studied sooty falcons and nesting sea birds on the islands in the Gulf of Oman as part of his degree course.

It is important to note that under the Convention on Migratory Species a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to promote conservation of migratory raptors between Eurasia and Africa. The sooty falcon is one of the few migratory raptors that breed in the region.  As such, we hope the sooty falcon will be a focus for conservation efforts and carry the banner for the conservation of raptors in general.

This work has been supported by The Office for Conservation of the Environment (Diwan of Royal Court), Royal Court Affairs, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), the Environment Society of Oman, Petroleum Development Oman and the Royal Oman Police.

Click below to access a pdf of our report from 2010. Contact us (info@natural-research.org) for further information and for our report that spans the pilot study years (2007-2008), which includes a summary in Arabic.

 McGrady, M.J., Gschweng, M. & Al-Fazari, W.A. 2010. Report on fieldwork to study the status and distribution of breeding sooty falcons (Falco concolor) on the northern islands of Oman – 2010. Natural Research, Ltd.

 

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Literature cited

Shah, J.N., Khan, S.B., Ahmed, S., Javed, S. & Hammadi, A. (2008) Sooty Falcon in the United Arab Emirates.  Falco 32: 16-19.

Kavanaugh, B. and King, H. (2008) Observations from 1998-2006 on the breeding population of Sooty Falcons Falco concolor on the Hawar Islands, Kingdom of Bahrain.  Sandgrouse 30(1):70-76.

Walter, H. (1979) The Sooty Falcon (Falco concolor) in Oman: results of a breeding survey. Journal of Oman Studies 5: 9-59.

Photos: M. McGrady

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