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Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus

This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a very small population, susceptible to a variety of threats. It has sustained population increases in recent years owing to intensive conservation efforts, but the population has apparently declined again since and has been lost from parts of its range. Confirmation that it is undergoing a continuing decline will likely lead to its uplisting to Endangered in the near future.

Taxonomic source(s)
Dowsett, R. J.; Forbes-Watson, A. D. 1993. Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy regions. Tauraco Press, Li
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

20-26 cm. Small, chestnut-and-white falcon. Male noticeably smaller than female. Rich warm brown to chestnut upperparts, with black crescentic markings on wings and mantle. Gleaming white underparts with bold, black heart-shaped blotchings. In flight, wings relatively rounded and long, thin tail. Voice Repeated toee tooee or shorter tooit tooit.

Distribution and population
Falco punctatus, restricted to Mauritius, has undergone a spectacular recovery from just four wild birds (including one breeding pair [Burgess 2005]) in 1974 (Safford and Jones 1997, Burgess 2005). By the end of the 1994 breeding season there were an estimated 222-286 birds in the population, following a successful recovery programme launched in 1973 (Nicoll et al. 2004). At the end of the 1999-2000 season, the population was estimated at the time to number 145-200 breeding pairs and a total population of 500-800 individuals (C. Jones in litt. 2000), divided into three subpopulations on mountain chains in the north, east and south-west of Mauritius (Jones and Swinnerton 1997). In 2007-2008 the population was estimated at 500-600 individuals by Dale (2008); 800-1,000 individuals were estimated in 2005 (Burgess 2005, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in litt. 2006) but it is now thought unlikely that the population ever approached 1,000 (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012), and may have only peaked at 350-500 individuals at the end of the 1990s (C. Jones in litt. 2012). By 2011-2012 the population was estimated to number c400 individuals, with the small subpopulation in the Moka Range in the north of the island apparently extinct, and declines observed in the south-western population, particularly in suboptimal habitat on the periphery of the range, since 2007-2008 (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012). The eastern population is stable and appears to be limited by nesting sites to around 40 pairs; the population remains dependent on conservation measures (Groombridge et al. 2001) and there is no record of dispersal to other locations despite intensive monitoring through colour ringing (Ewing et al. 2008, Senapathi et al. 2011).

Population justification
In 2005, the population was estimated at 800-1,000 individuals (V. Tatayah in litt. 2006), roughly equivalent to 530-670 mature individuals, however in 2011/2012 this was revised downwards to just 400 birds, including c250-300 mature individuals (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012).

Trend justification
At the end of the 1999-2000 breeding season, there was a total population of 500-800 individuals (C. Jones in litt. 2000), which had increased to an estimated 800-1,000 individuals by the start of the 2005-2006 breeding season (Burgess 2005; V. Tatayah in litt. 2006). However monitoring in 2007-2008 estimated fewer individuals - 500-600 - and the number of breeding pairs, 88,  was also lower than in 1997 when 99 were recorded (Cade 2008). The marginal population in the Moka Mountains in the north of Mauritius has apparently died out with this area badly affected by exotic plant species (Cade 2008, Dale 2008), and no kestrels were present at 38 previously occupied locations in the south western population (Cade 2008). The total population was estimated at 400 individuals in 2011-2012 and the current overall trend may well be decreasing - further information is required to confirm this.

Its primary habitat was native, evergreen, subtropical forests, but captive-bred birds have shown greater tolerance for degraded and open areas (Jones 1998, Carter and Jones 1999). They are no longer considered obligate forest dwellers but also exploit grassland (Burgess et al. 2009). Avoidance of agricultural areas may be partly due to a lack of isolated mature trees to use as vantage points (Burgess et al. 2009). It preys mainly on endemic arboreal Phelsuma day-geckos, as well as small birds, insects, and introduced mice and shrews (Temple 1977, Jones 1987). It traditionally nests in volcanic rock-cavities, and probably tree-holes, within forest territories (Temple 1977, Jones 1987), but now even breeds in a few suburban areas (Jones and Swinnerton 1997).

Deforestation by early colonists initiated declines - less than 3% of original forest now remains (Cade and Jones 1993). More recent declines appear related to organochloride pesticide-use in the 1950s and 1960s in agriculture and to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes (Cheke 1987a, Safford and Jones 1997). Black rats Rattus rattus, crab-eating macaques Macaca fascicularis, small Indian mongooses Herpestes javanicus and feral cats are all introduced predators of eggs, young or adults (Cade and Jones 1993, C. Jones in litt. 2000). Introduced plants including traveller's palm Ravenala madagascariensis, Chinese guava Psidium cattleianum, Ligustrum robustum and the creeper Hiptage benghalensis have invaded much of the species's habitat, particularly in the north of the island (Burgess et al. 2008, Cade 2008). This may reduce the kestrel's hunting efficiency (Cade 2008). Birds in suboptimal habitat in the west have been lost when natural nest sites are absent (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012). In addition the species suffered extreme loss of genetic variation and high rates of inbreeding, due to the population bottleneck, which are considered sufficient to affect the long-term viability of the population (Ewing et al. 2008). Climate change may be affecting the species through the increase in wet days at the start of the breeding season leading to laying date becoming later (Senapathi et al. 2011).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. A recovery programme, at first concentrating on research, was initiated in 1973 (Nicoll et al. 2004). From 1984 to 1994, an intensive management programme significantly increased population numbers. Activities included captive propagation and restocking, supplementary feeding, nest-site enhancement, provision of nest boxes, nest guarding, control of predators around nest- and release-sites, clutch manipulations, brood manipulations, treatment of parasite infestations on chicks and the rescue of eggs/young from failing nests (C. Jones in litt. 2000). In the late 1980s, the species was re-introduced into the Bambous mountain range by release of captive-reared birds, and subsequent evidence suggests that there was no discernable difference between the survival rate of these birds and those bred in the wild (Nicoll et al. 2004). Since 1994, there has been no release of captive-bred birds (Jones 1998) and little active conservation management (Jones and Swinnerton 1997), although provision of nest-boxes and monitoring of survival and productivity continue (Burgess 2005). A few pairs still receive supplementary food to enable detailed behavioural studies and for public relations purposes (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Research is ongoing into genetic variation so that populations can be managed to preserve genetic diversity (Jones and Swinnerton 1997, Groombridge et al. 2000, Groombridge et al. 2001, Ewing et al. 2008). In October 2005, it was announced that plans for the construction of a highway through the east coast mountains IBA had been cancelled, with a different route to be used (Anon. 2006). The construction of the highway would have damaged the south-eastern forest, home to about half the species's world population, centred around Ferney Valley, which has now become a conservation area (Anon. 2006, V. Tatayah in litt. 2012). Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue detailed population and ecological studies (C. Jones in litt. 2000), particularly using molecular techniques to monitor population size (Groombridge et al. 2001). Eventually, consider translocating birds to islands such as Réunion, although not until the endangered reptile populations on those islands are secure elsewhere (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Continue and expand provision of improved long-lasting nest boxes, particularly in the western population where natural nesting sites are lacking, and restart captive breeding and reintroduction.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Anon. 2005. 30 years working with the Mauritius Kestrel. MWF Newsletter: 4.

Anon. 2006. Highway plans shelved. Africa - Birds & Birding 11: 10.

Burgess, M. D.; Black, R. A.; Nicoll, M. A. C.; Jones, C. G.; Norris, K. 2009. The use of agricultural, open and forest habitats by juvenile Mauritius Kestrels Falco punctatus. Ibis 151(1): 63-76.

Burgess, N. 2003. Latham's snipe at King Island. Tasmanian Bird Report 31: 22.

Burgess, N.D.; Hales, J.D.; Ricketts, T.H.; Dinerstein, E. 2006. Factoring species, non-species values and threats into biodiversity prioritisation across the ecoregions of Africa and its islands. Biological Conservation 127: 383-401.

Cade, T. J. 2008. Mauritius Kestrels reappraised. Peregrine Fund Newsletter: 10-11.

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

Carter, J. E.; Jones, M. H. 1999. Habitat composition of Mauritius Kestrel home ranges. Journal of Field Ornithology 70: 230-235.

Cheke, A. S. 1987. An ecological history of the Mascarene Islands, with particular reference to extinctions and introductions of land vertebrates. In: Diamond, A.W. (ed.), Studies of Mascarene island birds, pp. 5-89. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.

Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.

Dale, R. 2008. In Search of Mauritius Kestrels. The Peregrine Fund Newsletter 39: 10-11.

Ewing, S. R.; Nager, R. G.; Nicoll, M. A. C.; Aumjaud, A.; Jones, C. G.; Keller, L. F. 2008. Inbreeding and loss of genetic variation in a reintroduced population of Mauritius Kestrel. Conservation Biology 22(2): 395-404.

Groombridge, J. J.; Bruford, M. W.; Jones, C. G.; Nichols, R. A. 2001. Evaluating the severity of the population bottleneck in the Mauritius kestrel Falco punctatus from ringing records using MCMC estimation. Journal of Animal Ecology 70: 401-409.

Groombridge, J. J.; Jones, C. G.; Bruford, M. W.; Nichols, R. A. 2000. "Ghost" alleles of the Mauritius Kestrel. Nature 403: 616.

Jones, C. 1998. Saved. On the Edge 81: 1-2.

Jones, C. G. 1987. The larger land-birds of Mauritius. In: Diamond, A.W. (ed.), Studies of Mascarene Island birds, pp. 208-300. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.

Jones, C. G.; Swinnerton, K. J. 1997. A summary of the conservation status and research for the Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus, Pink Pigeon Columba mayeri and Echo Parakeet Psittacula eques. Dodo: Journal of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust 33: 72-75.

Nicoll, M.A.C., Jones, C.G. and Norris, K. 2004. Comparison of survival rates of captive-reared and wild-bred Mauritius kestrels (Falco punctatus) in a re-introduced population. Biological Conservation 118(4): 539-548.

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

Senapathi, D., Nicoll, M.A.C., Teplitsky, C., Jones, C.G. and Norris, K. 2011. Climate change and the risks associated with delayed breeding in a tropical wild bird population . Proceedings of the Royal Society B Published online before print March 23, 2011.

Temple, S. A. 1977. The status and conservation of endemic kestrels on Indian Ocean Islands. In: Chancellor, R.D. (ed.), Report of proceedings, world conference on birds of prey, pp. 74-82. International Council for Bird Preservation, London.

Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Martin, R, Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Taylor, J., Warren, B., Symes, A.

Jones, C., Tatayah, V.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Falco punctatus. Downloaded from on 20/04/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 20/04/2014.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

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Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Falconidae (Falcons and caracaras)
Species name author Temminck, 1821
Population size 250-300 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 160 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species