Falco punctatusMauritius kestrel

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Geographic Range

Falco punctatus, also known as the Mauritius Kestrel, are unique to the island of Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Madagascar. They have also been found in the neighboring Mascarene Islands.

  • Biogeographic Regions
  • indian ocean

Habitat

Mauritius Kestrels originally were found in the tropical forests of the Black River Gorges but, with rapid habitat depletion, they have been introduced to and have adapted to the rocky forests and adjacent scrubby areas of the Bambous Mountains and on Moka Mountain. (Collar, 1994)

Physical Description

F. punctatus are small brown falcons with short wings and long tails. Mauritius Kestrels have black eyes and tapered wings, with patches of different shades of brown. The underside plumage is predominantly white interrupted with occasional dark-brown speckles. Their talons are small and delicate. This species of kestrel is more sexually dimorphic in size than other kestrels. (Temple, 1987)

  • Range mass
    200 to 250 g
    7.05 to 8.81 oz

Reproduction

Mauritius Kestrels are monogamous during the breeding cycle. They nest in forest trees, but recently nestboxes have been introduced. The clutch size averages four to five eggs. The eggs are speckled brown oval-shaped eggs. The incubation period is 28 to 35 days, and the young are cared for in the nest for as long as 35 days. Clutches are usually laid during the months of November and December. (Village, 1990)

Behavior

F. punctatus are a relatively sedentary and solitary creature. Upon their release from captivity, 89% of banded birds found nesting were less than 5 km from their release or fledgling site. (Jones, 1995)

Their ability to adapt feeding and nesting habits to local conditions have helped in their population resurgence.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Their diet primarily consists of arboreal geckos that are captured through a specialized hunting behavior known as "sun-oriented attacks". This predator also eats small birds, small rodents and insectivores, and various insects. The types of prey consumed by each sex may differ. (Temple, 1987)

Conservation Status

At one point in the 1970's, the Mauritius Kestrels were the most endangered bird of prey in the world with a reported four surviving birds in the wild. It is still the rarest falcon in the world. They were officially declared an endangered species in 1973. Since then, an intense conservation and captive breeding program was created by the Wildlife Preservation Trust in collaboration with the Mauritius government. This program consists of feeding of wild birds, providing nestboxes, multiple clutching, egg pulling, artificial incubation, hand rearing and release of captive-bred and captive-reared birds by hacking, fostering, and predator control. These captive-bred birds have been successfully introduced to non-native habitats. Due to its outstanding successes, the release program ended in 1994, but conservationists have been consistently monitoring this area in hopes to reach the carrying capacity of the island, estimated to be 500-600 kestrels. (Jones, 1994)

The main problems that this species have dealt with, and are still dealing with, is habitat destruction and unregulated use of pesticides in the 1950's and 1960's. Due to deforestation beginning since 1756 under colonial French control only 3% of this island has indigenous tropical forest. This is the native habitat of the kestrels. The other problem has been the unregulated use of pesticides known as organochlorines for malaria control and in food crop production. With the addition of these pesticides to the ecosystem, they poisoned the natural food supply of the Mauritius Kestrel.

(Safford, 1997)

Other Comments

Mauritius falscons are an important part of the food chain because they are both predators and prey on this small island. Their main predators include black rats (Rattus rattus), mongooses (Herpestes auropuncatatus), feral cats (Felis catus) and monkeys (Macaca fascicularis), all of which are introduced species on Mauritius.

Perhaps this species and its unique success story will instill hope and inspire other governments and organizations to support programs that save endangered species. In turn, they will be supporting the biodiversity of the world.

Contributors

Josiah Chung (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

1999. "The Mauritius Wildlife Foundation" (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2000 at http://www.maurinet.com/wildlife.html.

1992. "The Wild Ones Animal Index: Mauritius Kestrel" (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2000 at http://www.thewildones.org/Animals/mKestrel.html.

1999. "U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Endangered Species" (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2000 at http://endangered.fws.gov/fbirds2.html#Lnk23.

Cade, T., C. Jones. 1993. Progress in the restoration of the Mauritius Kestrel. Conservation Biology, 7(1): 169-175.

Carter, J., M. Jones. 1999. Habitat composition of Mauritius Kestrel home ranges. Journal of Field Ornithology, 70(2): 230-235.

Collar, N., M. Crosby, A. Stattersfield. 1994. "Bird Life International: Birds to Watch 2" (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2000 at http://www.wcmc.org.uk/species/data/red_note/17970.htm.

Jones, C., W. Heck, R. Lewis, Y. Mungroo, G. Slade. 1995. The restoration of the Mauritius Kestrel (Falco punctatus) population. Ibis, 137(Suppl.1): S173-S180.

Safford, R., C. Jones. 1997. Did organochlorine pesticide use cause declines in Mauritian forest birds?. Biodiversity and Conservation, 6(10): 1445-1451.

Temple, S. 1987. Foraging ecology of the Mauritius Kestrel (Falco punctatus). Biotropica, 19(1): 2-6.

Village, A. 1990. The Kestrel. London: T & AD Poyser.