Kilo the falcon is doing fine in Serbia

At the end of each summer, juvenile Saker Falcons become independent from their parents and the majority of them leave their nests to hunt for food alone, travelling varying distances in search of feeding places that are rich in trophic resources. The falcons stay in the areas where they can find the most abundant food for different stretches of time, from days to weeks to, occasionally, entire winters.

Individual falcons don’t always occupy a single area alone. Recent satellite telemetry studies show that there are areas which often attract many of the birds at any one time, with sometimes as many as six Saker Falcons occupying a land of only few hundred hectares.  And they are not the only species there. If food is plenty Peregrine Falcon have been seen to share the same territory as other birds of prey. The causes of these aggregations of different species, as observed in our study on the young saker falcon’s temporary settlement, are probably multiple, but their main interest is the source of food. Saker Falcons primary food source is rodents, but when unavailable the bird will take small to medium sized birds and other groups of vertebrates or invertebrates.

Kilo is a young Saker Falcon who started his journey in the far west of Romania, where the border of this country meets those of Hungary and Serbia. In order to observe his movements from the first days of  his life, ornithologists mounted him with a satellite, attached to his back. Just like his elder sister Thea, whose mobility stunned researchers as she attempted to nest with the neighboring subpopulation of Saker Falcons in Crimea (in doing so giving living proof of the genetic exchange between Saker Falcons in neighboring subpopulations),  Kilo found the courage to reach the Ukrainian-Russian border very soon after he had learned to fly. After a short period of time, he came back to the nest region, the long trip having taken him just two weeks. He is now established in Voivodin, Serbia.

At the end of November, a team made of Romanian and Serbian ornithologists went to find Kilo in one of his favorite places, in Northern Serbia, having tracked him down using GPS and the satellite transmitter attached to his back. It was a chilly autumn morning when they found Kilo, sitting on a harvested grain plot. The ground was riddled with small holes, made by field mice or other small rodents. Approaching the bird, the ornithologists saw him to be in good physical condition, his flight agility and strength characteristic of a healthy juvenile Saker Falcon. He didn’t stay too long in sight of the researchers, soon disappearing behind a line of trees, but they found him again just a few kilometers away. Even though he wasn’t seen while eating, the numerous little holes in the field are a reason to think that Kilo’s reason for staying in this particular place is the abundance of rodents available for food. Apparently, Kilo is not the only one with this idea; another young Saker falcon was spotted perched on a high voltage electrical pylon – an observation post often used by this species of falcon.

While researching in the area, further information was collected on other kinds of birds of prey. The conclusion was surprising: over 100 buzzards were seen here, a bird known for its ability to defend the agrarian land and for acting as a natural alternative to the toxic rodenticide favoured by many farmers. Alongside them, both Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and Hen Harriers (Circus cyaneus) were also seen.

Photographs: Luca Dehelean

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