Bernd Meyburg and his team has presented the first ever satellite tracking data for Amur Falcons at two conferences, one in the East (Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network conference, Mongolia) and one in South Africa (Birds of Prey Programme Conference, Kimberley). The information gathered on 7 tracked Amur Falcons most probably represents the most exciting satellite tracking data from raptors since the first long distance raptor migrants were tracked. The Amur Falcon has one of the longest raptor migrations, but is also unique because it supposedly flies a long distance over the sea. It was believed that they flew mostly over land during their return journey, but data from Bernd has shown that they fly a distance 2,500 to 3,100km over the sea in spring and do this by flying non-stop for between 2 and 3 days. Other interesting information presented include that there is quite a lot of movement between roosts in their wintering area, they have stop over points on their migration route back to the breeding grounds, and fly south of the Himalayas in northern India. They are also capable of covering huge amounts of distance in a few days and were able to travel up much of Africa in only a few days. They have now arrived in their breeding grounds and hopefully Prof Meyburg will be able to track their return route back to South Africa at the end of the year. One wonders if they will return to the same roost?
Satellite tracking of raptors on migration has become an indispensable tool in studying the routes taken by birds. It is especially useful when used in areas where there are little chance of recovering ringed birds.In the past, it was not possible to track any of the small falcons due to the size of the satellite transmitters. However, in 2009, the first transmitters became available that were small enough not to affect the survival of the birds (typically <3% of the body mass). Several studies have used these, including those on Eleanora’s Falcon, Sooty Falcon, Hobby Falcon and Redfooted Falcon.The Amur Falcon stands out as one of the most interesting birds to track. It migrates over a very long distance (eastern China to southern Africa), it has different routes to and from its breeding grounds and it supposedly flies several thousands of its journey across the sea.Bernd Meyburg visited South Africa in January 2010, and with the help of Zephne and Herman Bernitz and Rina Pretorius and Sylva Francis, all volunteers of the Migrating Kestrel Project, trapped 10 Amur Falcons at the massive Newcastle roost and fitted satellite transmitters to these birds.Already the data collected from these birds have shown that they are capable of moving large distances each day, and do move around between roosts. We look forward to watching them as they move back to their breeding grounds, where ever these are!
Prof. Dr. Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg is Chair of the World Working Group on Birds of Prey and head of the NABU Federal Working Group on Bird of Prey Protection.