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Sooty Falcon requires urgent action

Breeding sites must be protected…

A Sooty Falcon Falco concolor has been tracked from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to its wintering areas in Madagascar by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD). This is the first satellite tracking of Sooty Falcon anywhere in the world. BirdLife believes this monitoring to provide useful information to help conserve this declining species. However, urgent action is now needed to protect breeding sites of this rare falcon on Abu Dhabi islands and elsewhere in the Gulf.

Sooty Falcons breed in scattered, highly localised colonies in the Middle East and time their breeding to coincide with the autumn migration of small birds. Most of the population winters in Madagascar where they hunt large insects.

The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) fitted the Sooty Falcon with a satellite transmitter at its nest on islands in the Sila Peninsula, Abu Dhabi. H.E Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary General of EAD, expressed his pride and reiterated the importance of such scientific studies."We chose to track the Sooty Falcon … because it is a key species for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi," said Abdulnasser Al Shamsi, EAD Director of Biodiversity Management Sector.

The bird – known as 'Ibn Battuta' - departed the UAE in October and was recorded flying over Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique before crossing into Madagascar, its final destination for the winter.

"This first ever tracking of the species is a fantastic addition to world science," said Dr Salim Javed, EAD Deputy Manager of Bird Conservation. Altogether Ibn Battuta flew through seven countries and covered 6,700 km.

Sooty Falcon has recently been uplisted to Near Threatened owing to concerns that its population may be much smaller than previously thought, and in decline. A recent EAD breeding survey revealed a fall of 64% since 1994. They reported that the species had disappeared from several former nesting locations, and only six known breeding pairs remain. EAD scientists believe that the loss may be a result of disturbance from development and human presence during the nesting season.“In the Arabian Gulf the situation appears to have reached a critical stage for nesting Sooty Falcons”, said Ibrahim Al-khader, BirdLife’s Director for the Middle East. “BirdLife is extremely concerned about this rare falcon. In biological terms the UAE Sooty Falcon population now critically close to extinction and requires immediate conservation action”.

BirdLife recently reported how the EAD were instrumental in forming a new agreement that will aid concerted conservation effort necessary across different countries. “Initiating such a multi-national collaborative project on Sooty falcon would be one of the best ways to kick-start the implementation of the Action Plan of the newly established MoU on Migratory Birds of Prey, recently concluded in Abu Dhabi," added Dr Salim Javed.

BirdLife believes that implementation of the 'African-Eurasian Memorandum of Understanding on Birds of Prey' will provide broad-scale actions to help Sooty Falcon. However, targeted action is now urgently required. “What needs to be achieved quickly and effectively is conservation of the remaining nesting sites of this falcon on the Abu Dhabi islands, as well as elsewhere in the Gulf”, commented Ibrahim Al-khader.BirdLife’s Important Bird Area (IBA) programmes, and EAD’s own studies, have identified a number of the islands of Abu Dhabi as being of international importance for birds of prey which urgently require formal protection by the UAE authorities.

“BirdLife respectfully wishes to propose that Faziya, Furaijidat, Qasr Khayain, Ghagah and Jazeera Shoot should be formally protected and managed in time for the next breeding season”, said Ibrahim Al-khader. “There really is no time to lose”.

BirdLife also highlights a number of urgent conservation actions for these important Sooty Falcon locations.

“Without such actions, one of the Middle East’s most beautiful and extraordinary birds of prey will disappear from the region”, concluded Ibrahim Al-khader. The actions include:

* Restricting, where and when possible, access to breeding colonies of Sooty Falcon at the above sites.
* Controlling any future development within these sites that would negatively affect breeding colonies and ensure that environment assessments and regulations are implemented for any potential development.
* Annual monitoring of the breeding colony at these sites to assess the population trend.
* Conducting research of breeding and wintering species at these sites to be designated as IBAs except for Ghagah (which is already an IBA) to enable their official recognition and protection.

4th July 2014