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World Migratory Bird Day

Today, the 9th May 2020, is World Migratory Bird Day - but what does that mean, and how is falconry concerned?

WMBD is an annual celebration and educational campaign for the conservation efforts towards migratory birds.
Each year there is a theme, and this year's theme is Birds Connect Our World, the technologies we use to track birds, and how the information can inform conservation.

So what is migration?

Migration is when members of a species move to a different environment. This is typically seasonal but can happen more frequently for some species. There are many reasons for migrating, mainly taking advantage of environments with more favourable conditions.

Conditions such as:

  • availability of food
  • more suitable breeding grounds
  • more safety from predators
  • more suitable areas for rearing young.

How does this affect captive birds?

Although it has been observed that migratory species become more active in captivity during migratory periods, falconry related birds are relatively unaffected. As falconers, it is our job to provide an optimal level of welfare for our birds, this means that to the best of our ability, we provide an environment too good for captive birds to even need to migrate. We provide a varied and consistent diet meaning there is no reason to migrate for food. We provide shelter from the weathers meaning there is no reason to migrate for the weather. We provide protection from predators meaning there simply is no reason for the raptors in our care to move.

Migration can be a long and difficult journey, and many birds do not reach their desired destination. Captive birds are provided with everything they need along with veterinary care. This is a luxury that many wild birds do not get meaning they must migrate, for falconry, there is simply no need.

Migration and the Climate Crisis

The climate and environment control the migration of birds. Seasonal migrators are greatly influenced by temperature, with the current climate crisis this is causing issues for many species. Due to climate change, the regular cycle of these birds has been interrupted resulting in the decline of many species. One example of this includes the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The ENSO is the variation in temperatures affecting the climate of the tropics of the Americas. El Nino refers to the warming of sea temperatures whereas the Southern Oscillation refers to the atmospheric warming.

The increasing frequency of El Nino is resulting in the warming of these specific climates and therefore is a contributor to climate change. Climate change is negatively affecting many birds around the planet, including migratory birds that migrate in order to meet with the movement of their prey food such as fish and insects, and birds that migrate in order to meet at mating grounds.

How is falconry involved in migratory conservation?

This year, as the WMBD theme includes the technologies we use to track birds, falconry has taken a front seat roll. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary have been researching the migratory habits of American Kestrels for more than 50 years. Hawk Mountain have been ringing and using small tracking devices to monitor the migration of American Kestrels. Nest boxes set up by the sanctuary help to collect data. The tracking data has shown an overall decrease in the use of nesting productivity and has shown that predation by Coopers hawks is a leading cause of local mortalities.

However, the American Kestrel is a popular falconry bird and because of this there is a healthy captive population. This provides a safety net should the population ever fall into danger. Falconry techniques have been used in the past to breed birds to supplement the wild populations, one particularly famous example of this includes the Mauritius Kestrel.

So on this World Migratory Bird Day, we celebrate the efforts towards protecting bird species, and we are proud that falconry and its techniques can help towards the conservation of so much wildlife.

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