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10
November

Protecting the Altai Saker Falcon: Results of the 2023 Season

The saker falcon is one of Northern Eurasia's most vulnerable avian predators. Since 2017, The World Around You Siberian Wellness Foundation has conducted a population conservation project for the saker falcon. With the conclusion of the field expedition season, we are delighted to present the results of the 2023 project.

Preparation and monitoring

At the first stage of the work, a team of specialists conducted thorough monitoring in May to assess the status of the Saker population in the Altai-Sayan eco-region. In the Tuva Depression, our team inspected 50 saker falcon nesting sites, but only 26 of these sites were inhabited by adult birds. The considerable decline in breeding pairs can be attributed to two factors: The resurgence of fishing activities in Mongolia and the extensive development taking place in the steppes of the Tuva Depression.

Among the 26 occupied sites this year, breeding pairs were discovered at 21 locations, while seven sites were inhabited solely by single males. Out of 21 pairs, successful reproduction was observed only in 13 pairs, while the breeding attempts of seven pairs concluded unsuccessfully. The exceptionally high mortality rate among offspring this year is linked to an unusually cold onset to the breeding season. The majority of breeding pairs postponed the onset of egg-laying by 1.5 to 2 weeks. The hatched chicks were also adversely affected by the cold and bad weather.

As a result, in 2023, a total of 35 chicks fledged from the 13 nests. For comparison, in 2022, successful breeding occurred in 24 nests, leading to the fledging of 58 chicks (excluding those placed from the nursery).

In June, a second team of ornithologists ventured to the field site to oversee and install nest boxes. The expedition members surveyed the left bank of the Tes-Khem River within the Ubsunur Depression, encompassing the territory of the Ubsunur Depression Reserve. Among the 12 Saker nesting sites assessed, only one exhibited successful reproduction, hosting a single downy chick in the nest. Similar to the Tuva Depression, the primary cause of unsuccessful reproduction in this area was attributed to a severe and prolonged cold spell during the spring, lasting for an entire month.

Feeding of chicks

This year, in response to the challenging conditions, the team initiated feeding for the chicks much earlier than usual, aiming to enhance their survival prospects. Specialists commenced feeding the chicks when they were 12-18 days old, a departure from the previous practice of starting at 20-25 days. Remarkably, from that point onward, not a single chick was lost among the nests that received supplemental feeding.

The feeding efforts successfully sustained larger broods of 4–5 chicks, mitigating the significant malnutrition previously experienced by the younger chicks in these broods. The intensive feeding, along with various forms of assistance such as returning fallen chicks to nests and repairing emergency nests, resulted in the supervised broods reaching fledging age without any losses. All of them fully recovered, exhibiting normal development and muscle mass by the time they were ready to fledge.

At the time of the final round of feeding, 8 out of the 12 fed broods had already fledged, while the remaining 4 were on the verge of leaving the nest.

How do wild birds react to the presence of humans and does it have any adverse effects on them?

The project's seven-year experience indicates that, despite regular visits to the nests and feeding, chicks do not develop a tolerance to human presence. This year, to reduce chick-human interaction, food was either lifted onto the nest using a grabber or thrown from the ground. Over time, adult birds gradually grew more tolerant of team members, often remaining in proximity to the nest during feeding activities. Nevertheless, their response to other individuals such as local farmers and journalists continued to be one of distrust.

Trackers for protection

In the current year, four chicks were equipped with GPS/GSM trackers to monitor their movements, evaluate potential threats, and identify locations of illegal fishing activities. This work brings results. Thanks to the tracker, the rescue team managed to locate Mityba chick and three other saker falcons, saving them from the grasp of poachers.

Besides tracking the birds equipped with trackers, ornithologists consistently receive updates on captured birds through the use of rings and tattoos applied since 2021. Consequently, upon capturing a bird unsuitable for sale, hunters often resort to sending messages in an attempt to secure a ransom for its return. As a result, the project specialists gathered substantial evidence indicating the capture of birds from the Altai-Sayan population in Mongolia and China.

Efforts are ongoing to identify one of the primary threats to saker falcons – the damage caused by electric shocks from power lines hazardous to birds. Thanks to the cumulative efforts of previous years, multiple power lines hazardous to birds have been transformed into underground cables or fitted with bird protection device. During the 2023 fieldwork, a bird-endangering power line was identified. It was prioritized for reconstruction.

Efforts are ongoing to identify one of the primary threats to saker falcons – the damage caused by electric shocks from power lines hazardous to birds. Thanks to the cumulative efforts of previous years, multiple power lines hazardous to birds have been transformed into underground cables or fitted with bird protection device. During the 2023 fieldwork, a bird-endangering power line was identified. It was prioritized for reconstruction. https://worldaroundyou.org/help

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