Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus)

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Mauritius kestrel
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Mauritius kestrel fact file

Mauritius kestrel description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyFalconidae
GenusFalco (1)

The Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus) 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).

French
Crécerelle de l'Ile Maurice, Crécerelle de Maurice, Faucon de l'Ile Maurice.
Spanish
Cernícalo de la Mauricio.
Size
Length: 23 - 26 cm (2)
Weight
0.11 kg (2)
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Mauritius kestrel 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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Mauritius kestrel 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 Mauritius kestrel has been downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) (4).

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Mauritius kestrel habitat

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

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Mauritius kestrel status

The Mauritius kestrel is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Mauritius kestrel threats

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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Mauritius kestrel 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 (4). The recovery of the Mauritius kestrel is an inspiring example of what determined conservation programmes can achieve.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the Mauritius kestrel: 

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Authentication

Authenticated by BirdLife International Secretariat.
http://www.birdlife.org

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Incubation
The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Monogamous
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Natal
Site of birth.
Raptor
Bird of prey. Raptors are members of the taxonomic order Falconiformes.
Re-introduction
An attempt to establish a species in an area to which it has been introduced but where the introduction has been unsuccessful.
Territorial
An animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. UNEP-WCMC Species Sheet (March, 2008)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/species/data/species_sheets/maurkest.htm
  3. CITES (November, 2002)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. BirdLife International. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.
  5. Wildlife Preservation Trust, Canada (March, 2008)
    http://www.wptc.org/wildlife/kestrel.php
  6. The Wild Ones (c/o the Wildlife Trust) (January, 2002)
    http://www.thewildones.org/Animals/mKestrel.html
  7. Del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume two. New World Vultures to Guinea fowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  8. Animal Diversity Web (January, 2002)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/falco/f._punctatus$narrative.html
  9. Cade, T.G. and Jones, C.G. (1993) Progress in Restoration of the Mauritius Kestrel. Conservation Biology, 7: 169 - 175.
  10. Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (March, 2008)
    http://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/article.php?cat=projects&title=01.%20Mauritius%20Kestrel
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Mauritius kestrel  
Mauritius kestrel

© Nick Garbutt / naturepl.com

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