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New study of falcons in Arctic finds baby boom on way

By Olga Gertcyk
01 May 2015

First findings from joint UK-Russian project funded by Abu-Dhabi give positive news on future for the rare bird of prey.

It is positive news for the rare species and reaffirms the satisfactory state of the population on the western slope of the Polar Urals. Picture: Alexander Sokolov

The first stage of a three-year project to monitor gyrfalcons living in the Yamal Peninsula has shown an imminent baby boom across the region.

Funded by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the study has found six out of seven nesting territories checked over a week-long period had birds nesting and preparing for births. One of the males was a white bird, which is very rare for this part of the Arctic, where most of the birds are grey morph.

It is positive news for the rare species and reaffirms the satisfactory state of the population on the western slope of the Polar Urals. Researchers believe, that growing population mainly follow the increase density of willow and rock ptarmigans – both the main prey for gyrfalcon.

The study itself is being carried out by Russian scientists Dr Aleksandr Sokolov and Dr Vasiliy Sokolov, both renowned bird experts, and Dr. Andrew Dixon, leader of the project, the UK-based International Wildlife Consultants.

Arctic falcons

Map showing autumn migration pathways of Peregrines from breeding population on the Yamal Peninsula, Eastern Taimyr and Lena Delta. Pucture: Middle East Falcon Research Group

In addition to monitoring gyrfalcons, the team is also observing the migration of another rare species, the white-tailed eagle. Automatic cameras have also been installed across the Erkuta river basin with the arctic fox, wolverine and other predators captured among the 90,000 photos taken.

The partnership between scientists in Yamal and UK funded by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi has been in place for a number of years, and previous research has discovered fascinating results about the migration of the peregrine falcons to and from the peninsula.

Firstly, as part of research carried out between 2008 and 2013, it was found that the bird had a vast migration area. One falcon made it all the way to Iraq, with its transmitter reporting from a central Baghdad mosque, while another found its way south to a beach in Portugal, in Southern Sudan and Persian Gulg countries.

Arctic falcons


Arctic falcons

One falcon made it all the way to Iraq, with its transmitter reporting from a central Baghdad mosque, while another found its way south to a beach in Portugal, in Southern Sudan and Persian Gulg countries. Pictures: Vasily Sokolov, Alexander Sokolov

Previous studies have shown that the peregrine falcon is doing 'reasonable well in most of its breeding range'. In the late 1970s there were an estimated 200 to 220 breeding pairs on Taymyr, which had increased to an estimated 400 to 430 by the end of the 1990s.

A recent report by the Middle East Falcon Research Group found that nest sites on the Kolyma River and southern Yamal Peninsula were occasionally only 3-5 km apart.

Satellite tracking also found that birds from different breeding areas in the Arctic had different migration routes, and a strong tendency to return to breed in the place where they were reared themselves.

Arctic falcons


Arctic falcons

Satellite tracking also found that birds from different breeding areas in the Arctic had different migration routes, and a strong tendency to return to breed in the place where they were reared themselves. Pictures: Vasily Sokolov

But scientists previously speculated that climate change could be influencing the timing of migration and the route taken. They wrote that 'differences in the size, coloration and number of migratory Peregrines reaching the Arabian Peninsula in recent years could be as a result of changes in migratory behaviour'.

Established in 1996, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) is committed raising environmental awareness, facilitating sustainable development and ensuring environmental issues remain one of the top priorities of the UAE’s national agenda.

Based in Carmarthen, in Wales, International Wildlife Consultants has 40 years’ experience in working with birds of prey, including on an artificial nest program in Mongolia.

Arctic falcons

The first stage of a three-year project to monitor gyrfalcons living in the Yamal Peninsula has shown an imminent baby boom across the region. Picture: Andrew Dixon

On its website it states: 'The long-term well-being of habitats and wildlife populations are our first priority, followed by the welfare of individual animals. To achieve these aims we undertake front-line field research, hands-on management of habitats and wildlife, education of biologists, managers, end-users and the public, and consultancies on wildlife law and regulation.'

The new study of the falcons will last three years.

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