It has been 14 years since we started the conservation of Lesser Kestrels in Cádiz. Coincidentally, in March 2008, a member of our association climbed the tower of the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church, in Los Barrios, when he noticed the presence of several Lesser Kestrels breeding inside. A fortuitous finding that has led to the growth of this colony until it is currently perhaps the most important colony in Andalusia (Bustamante, 2020).
From that precise moment we began to propose actions to improve its situation in that enclave, trying to ensure that this small bird of prey had adequate nesting places. We began by creating collaborative ties with the different parish priests who have passed through this religious centre for the Church. Initially, one of the priority actions was cleaning the building. The remains and droppings of pigeons were piled high and greatly limited the reproduction of these small falcons. That year, we verified the reproduction of 7 pairs and the successful fledging of 15 young.
From that moment until the present day, the evolution of the colony in the parish has been tremendous, at present there are 53 nests available, with an impressive 49 occupied last season and these occupied nests produced the successful fledging of 181 young. The municipality of Los Barrios can now house more than 80 nesting pairs, it is a conservation success story attained exclusively through environmental volunteering.
Encouraged by our success, our interest quickly moved to other enclaves in the municipality of Los Barrios and Algeciras. We increased the area of work reaching as far as Medina Sidonia, in the year 2021. For this expansion we developed agreements with town halls, churches, and individuals. In 2022 we have reached 100 available nests placed in Cádiz and 240 young have been successfully fledged.
The same year as the start of the project (2008), we began the scientific ringing of these birds and began with the detailed study of their reproductive biology. Since then, more than 1,000 young and a couple of hundred adults have been ringed to enable us to learn more about their evolution. Hundreds of local recaptures have confirmed the importance of this enclave for the species. External observations have been diverse during reproduction: Castro Verde (Portugal), Doñana, Álora, Manilva, Casares, Tarifa, Algeciras, etc. During migration it has been less so, but enough to confirm the surprising migration to the north after breeding and then to the Sahel in autumn and winter.
Other priority actions have been for the dissemination, awareness, and collaboration with various scientific entities. We have carried out many educational open days for the public, demonstrating ringing, construction of nest boxes, visits to the colonies, etc. In 2021, we placed a live broadcast webcam in one of the Los Barrios City Hall nest boxes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jUjoQ-Y1nM).
We have proposed, together with the Barrios City Council, the declaration of an urban ZEPA (Special Protection Area for Birds) for the urban area of this municipality. We are in the process of doing the same with Tarifa. The idea is to give a higher value to the urban habitat and facilitate the conservation of breeding sites protected under the umbrella of European environmental legislation.
In the scientific field, we have developed agreements with the University of East Anglia (UK) and the University of Cádiz. With the first, in 2014, we started the work of placing geolocators and taking samples of variable isotopes to end up participating in a publication on how the effects of migration on birds are less than the importance of the habitat where they reproduce (Buchan, et al, 2021). With the University of Cadiz, we have started this year a marking project with GPS transmitters of reproductive individuals, to know their feeding areas and thus the subsequent protection of those areas.
The last issue we are working on is the detailed monitoring of the wintering of this species in the south of Cádiz. In this area of its distribution there remains a small population of non-migratory individuals that spend the winter in their breeding areas, this fact is very important in order for us to take into account the relationship between the issues of climate change and the species migration patterns.
From Tumbabuey’s perspective we are focused on the conservation of this small steppe bird of prey and its habits and habitats, an effort that is based on the strength with the social number of our group and the valuable support of the Andalucía Bird Society.
Author: Miguel González Perea
Buchan, C., Gilroy, J. J., Catry, I., Bustamante, J., Marca, A. D., Atkinson, P. W., … & Franco, A. (2021). Carryover effects of long-distance avian migration are weaker than effects of breeding environment in a partially migratory bird. Scientific reports, 11(1), 1-10.
Bustamante, J., Molina, B., and Del Moral, J. C. (Eds.). 2020. The Lesser Kestrel in Spain, breeding population in 2016-18 and census method. SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.
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