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Revealing the secrets of the Sooty falcons with Argos satellite telemetry

Jul 6, 2015

The sooty falcon population is highly vulnerable

The Sooty falcon Falco concolor is a medium-sized falcon that breeds on the islands of the Arabian Gulf, during the hottest months of the year from May to September. During its non-breeding periods, the Sooty falcon migrates to Madagascar, a known wintering area for the species, where large insects can be hunted in great quantities.

Even though it is very difficult to accurately estimate their population size, scientists from Abu Dhabi’s’ Environnement Agency (EAD) confirm that the species is declining. The biggest threat for the population remains human presence, due to excessive development, which seriously affects the falcons; especially during their nesting season.

In order to reclassify the Sooty facon’s conservation status (which is currently stated as “Near threatened”) more detailed studies are needed to describe behavior and migration patterns, as well as its vulnerability to human presence.

The Argos advantage for tracking Sooty falcons

In an effort to obtain more accurate data on the birds’ migration pattern, Salim Javed, Manager at the Terrestrial Assessment and Conservation Section at the EAD, tagged his first Sooty falcon in 2008, at its nest on islands in the Sila Peninsula (United Arab Emirates) and followed its journey to Madagascar. The falcon was tagged with a 9.5 Argos solar powered transmitter , which transmitted data related to its location every day.

The bird, known as “Ibn Battuta”, flew through Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, almost covering 6,700km in 13 days! The journey was followed with great enthusiasm by Salim Javed and his team[i]. Indeed, this was the first time a Sooty Falcon was ever tracked during its long-distance migration from the UAE to its wintering grounds!

Why Ibn Battura? Just for the anecdote, it is the first African explorer and traveler who covered almost 120,000 km in the 14th century, from the south of Tombouctou to the North of IlKhanate, an ancient Bulgarian territory where the Volga river flows; and from West to the Far East from Tangier to Qhanzhou.

Data collected with Argos system revealed multiple stop-overs in Kenya and Ethiopia, where a short rainy season may have provided better opportunities to hunt small bird and arthropods.

Towards more effective conservation initiatives

The data collected by Salim Javed and completed by other studies have strengthened conservation initiatives, and led to the rejection of several development projects in order to save the species’ shrinking habitat. Multi-national collaborations involving broad scale conservation efforts have been developed, such as the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding on the conservation of Migratory Birds of prey in Africa and Eurasia) which has been signed by several African-Eurasian states. These actions aim to protect the remaining nesting sites of this falcon (and other birds of prey) on the Abu Dhabi islands, as well as elsewhere in the Gulf, in order to have a more effective and long term impact on the population’s survival. A draft International Single Species Action Plan has been prepared by CMS Raptor MoU to ensure priority actions are implemented within the Sooty Falcon states for the long-term protection of this magnificent falcon!


[i] David C. Douglas, Shahid Khan, Junid Nazeer Shah and Abdullah Ali Al Hammadi