As we track the Beijing Cuckoos from the Chinese capital all the way to Africa, we are learning that they take a remarkably similar route to another long-distance avian migrant, the Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis).
The Amur Falcon is one of the most beautiful and agile of all birds of prey. It’s a spectacular aerial hunter that often causes one to gasp when seeing it wheeling in the sky as it hunts dragonflies and other flying insects.
A few years ago it came to light that Amur Falcons, on their way to Africa each autumn, congregated in Nagaland in northeast India. The size of the gathering was on a staggering scale, estimated to be around 1 million birds.
Unfortunately, in 2012, it was revealed that hunting of Amur Falcons by the local people was also on a huge scale. Staff at Conservation India had discovered that tens of thousands of migrating Amur Falcons were being illegally trapped on the roost at a reservoir at Doyang in Nagaland and then being taken to local markets alive, or killed and smoked, for sale as food. What happened next is a major conservation success story.
In 2013, Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) said: “From an estimated 100,000 falcons killed last year, none have been trapped in nets this year. The transformation is extraordinary and the change has come very quickly. But we also have to guard against this rapid change getting reversed. We needed to also set up solutions which are sustainable and of practical use to the community.”
As conservationists will know very well, it’s one thing to put a stop to illegal hunting in a single year, it’s another to sustain it. That is why there has been so much work to engage the local communities, including providing alternative livelihoods. One of the key elements of the public awareness campaign has been the project to track Amur Falcons, with individual birds named after local villages in Nagaland.
Just a few days ago, I received a note from Suresh Kumar of the Wildlife Institute of India who has just spent a few weeks in Nagaland. He writes:
“This season was the initiation of a “New Chapter” in our efforts to further our understanding of this species and continue with the conservation efforts that appears to have rooted deep in the remote villages of not only in Nagaland but in many parts of the Northeastern hill States. No Amur falcons were hunted this season – “ZERO”. I received a number of requests from administrators and villagers to come visit their area and acknowledge their efforts in protecting falcons, and also tag and release a bird there with the name of the village. A lot more sites in the whole of NE appears to host sizeable number of falcons during October-November, which was previously unknown.
As part of the “Amur Falcon Conservation Initiative” this season we satellite tagged five more Amur falcons across four roosting sites in Nagaland. A special grant for undertaking this study has been provided by MoEF & CC to WII. This comes at a perfect time with India becoming a signatory of the Convention on Migratory Species – Raptors MoU from March 2016.”
You can follow the progress of the tagged birds here.
Two of the Amur Falcons originally tagged in 2013 have been visiting an area just a few hundred kilometres north of Beijing to breed and, although it breeds in the capital in small numbers, it is in spring and autumn when we are fortunate to see flocks of Amur Falcons at suitable stopover sites such as Yeyahu or Miyun Reservoir. So here in Beijing we have a strong affinity with this bird.
Recognising that it is this conservation effort that enables us in northeastern China to enjoy these wonderful birds, birders wanted to thank the Indian government and, most importantly, the local people for protecting Amur Falcons. Birding Beijing facilitated the letter below, which has been signed by Ms Fu Jianping, President of China Birdwatching Society, on behalf of their members and also by many individual birders in Beijing and around the country.
As we collected signatures, it was wonderful to receive a message from the “Wind Child” young birding group in Hunan Province who, on their very first field trip, saw some Amur Falcons and adopted it as their favourite species. They were keen to add their voices to the letter and, thanks to the efforts of Suresh Kumar at the Wildlife Institute of India, the letter was made into a poster, framed and handed over to the local community leaders (see header photo) during the annual gathering of Amur Falcons earlier this month.
Just as with the Beijing Cuckoos, the Amur Falcon reminds us that birds have no borders and they are shared by all the countries they grace. It is only by working together that these incredible travellers, and the habitats they need, can be protected.
Huge thanks to Suresh Kumar for arranging the design, framing and the handover of the letter, thank you to Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International for supporting the initiative, and thank you to all of the signatories of the letter. Most of all, a big thank you to the local people in Nagaland for their wonderful work.
Maybe the Amur Falcons from Nagaland will mingle with the Beijing Cuckoos somewhere in Africa this winter!