1 Oct 2015

Common Kestrels - the changing relationship of co-existence with humans

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). Photo: HIH Princess Takamado
Photo: HIH Princess Takamado
By HIH Princess Takamado

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, October 2015

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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko)

I have a great liking for raptors.  Not only am I amazed at their keen eyesight and driving speed from the sky, but also I am fascinated when I witness such moments as they ruefully fly away after a blunder in hunting, or as they accidentally drop a prey.   Above all, however, I like them best when they look down from up above, head slanted, straining every nerve lest they should overlook even the slightest motion of a prey.   It always excites me.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). Photo: HIH Princess Takamado

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“Jusangake” (literally meaning 13 cliffs) in Nakano City, Nagano Prefecture, is a collective breeding site for the common kestrel, and is designated as a national natural treasure.   The common kestrel is a small bird of prey, about the size of a dove.   It is said that in 1953 about 20 pairs nested on this 30-meter-high cliff overlooking the River Yomase.   But with the passage of time, the surrounding areas were gradually covered with grass and trees and became unsuitable for the bird to breed.   In 2006, in cooperation with Nagano Prefecture, the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the local government of Nakano City launched an environmental improvement project aiming to recover the collective breeding site for the common kestrel. They lopped off branches of trees on the cliff, and cut off shrubs, weeds and ivy mantling the cliff. As a result of the recovery of landscape at Jusangake, a breeding environment for the bird was properly re-created.

Wildlife naturally tries to avoid competition with each other.   Instead, each species adapts itself to the given environment in order to increase the success rate of breeding.   It is why even the same species comes to vary in habit depending on the type of environment it lives.  As collective breeding sites for the common kestrel like Jusangake are rare worldwide, I really hope the bird will breed there again.   But the number of breeding individuals has been decreasing every year and we have not seen any nesting for two years since 2013.   The considerable reasons may be : Peregrine falcons bred nearby for one thing , and, for the other, Japanese grass voles, which common kestrels mainly feed on, decreased in number in this vicinity, due to the environmental change.   This year, however, two pairs bred for the first time in these three years and the chicks successfully fledged in Jusangake area.   Additionally speaking, the success of two pairs’ breeding is said to be the first in these four years.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). Photo: HIH Princess Takamado

When Jusangake was designated as a national natural treasure, the population of the common kestrel used to be low nationwide, but the situation is different now.   As humans came to be recognized as non-dangerous, the common kestrels, one of the smallest and feeblest raptors, have started nesting in man-made constructions such as buildings and bridges.  By staying closer to humans, they have increased the population.   I have even heard that having increased the population, they invaded into higher mountains in summer and inevitably became predators to chicks of rock ptarmigans, a special natural treasure of Japan.   We can say that this is a typical example of the changing relationship of co-existence and environmental adaptation between men and birds or among different species of birds. It is our sincere wish that the common kestrels may return to their original breeding sites, to Jusangake in particular.

I don’t think there is only one answer to the question, “how should the environment be?”   But it seems definitely sure that things should not be considered exclusively through human eyes.

Photo: HIH Princess Takamado


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