Falcons in the city
[The Namibian – 30 Jan 2009]

Namibians are fortunate to have an interesting variety of small bird of prey species that adapt to living in our cities and towns. This diversity includes diurnal falcons, goshawks and kestrels, nocturnal owls and even a crepuscular owl. The fortunate part is that these predatory birds control populations of creatures that are considered pests around homes, gardens and inner city areas. The pests include rodents, bats, some garden insects as well as for some gardeners, small fruit eating birds.

Cities and towns create a range of habitats; there are the high and low concrete or brick buildings, the river-beds with riverine shrubby or woodland edges and the planted gardens with diversity of indigenous and exotic flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs as well as often nutritious grass planted as lawn. Each species of predatory bird is adapted to a specific habitat with preferred nest sites and preferred food items.

Of the most common urbanized diurnal (day) raptor is the Rock Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus. Throughout Namibia this 200 gram falcon has adapted to nesting on buildings in cities and towns. Pairs of kestrels are sedentary and providing that their prey items, rodents, lizards and insects do not become scarce they can be seen around their city blocks throughout the year. As the summer approaches and usually with the onset of the first rains the city kestrels will take up their nest sites on a building ledge. Pairs prefer to use the same site each year and if the rain season begins early and is extensive a single pair of kestrels may have two clutches of eggs in one summer season.

After a 4 week incubation period and an approximate 5 week nestling period great activity can be seen as 2-4 young birds leave the nest site and spend much of their days over the next month or two playing in the wind and practicing their flying and predatory techniques between the buildings. The city kestrel nest sites are often on window ledges, of buildings. Many people only begin to notice the Rock Kestrels when the chicks are part grown and become vocal in their demands for food and attention.

Young kestrels are endangered in a number of ways. People can disturb the site when too much close attention is given to the nest. Cats, especially those that are in feral colonies, whether these colonies are fed or not, are always in direct competition for natural food items with small birds of prey. Cats are also known to disturb nest sites and predate on chicks. Quite often because of disturbance young birds leave the nest before they are really able to fly. These young birds are at the mercy of people as they are unable to easily or quickly get back to a safe high perch on a building. Every year NARREC receives calls from people who have found young birds on a city street.

Together with students from the Polytechnic of Namibia a survey of urban Rock Kestrel nest sites is being conducted. Any person that knows of a city or town site where these birds breed is asked to call NARREC on Tel: 061 264409 / 264256 Cell: 0811290565

Liz Komen