Taita Falcon CRITICALLY ENDANGERED IN SOUTH AFRICA

Taita Falcon (Photo: Alan Kemp)
Blyde River Canyon (Photo: Andrew Jenkins)

In South Africa the species is regarded as one of the country’s rarest breeding birds and is listed as Critically Endangered.

In an effort to extend our knowledge of this species in southern Africa, BirdLife South Africa has registered the South African Taita Falcon Survey Team as the Species Guardian for the Taita Falcon, under the BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme.

Immediate objectives for 2017 to 2020:

  1. To conduct the routine, 6-8 day field visit to the Mpumalanga/Limpopo Drakensberg Escarpment area to monitor site occupancy and breeding success at all known Taita Falcon territories, as done annually since 2008.
  2. To conduct a Taita Falcon survey of the Niassa National Reserve in Northern Mozambique. There is good anecdotal evidence to suggest that the scattered inselbergs that characterise much of the habitat in this area may support breeding pairs of Taita Falcons. We aim to survey a representative sample of these inselbergs, use these results to develop an estimate of the regional population, and develop in-country expertise to continue monitoring the species in this remote area.
  3. To further encourage Taita Falcon research and monitoring in Zimbabwe. During the 2013 and 2014 Batoka surveys the team was joined by staff from BirdLife Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe National Parks. The intention now is for this group to continue the surveying of previously known Taita Falcon sites in Zimbabwe. BirdLife South Africa and the survey team will support them in helping to select target areas and design further survey protocols.

Understanding the biology of the Taita Falcon is critical to improving our ability to take effective conservation action to save this species from extinction in the wild. Full-time, localised, intensive research on breeding pairs of Taita Falcons in the Mpumalanga/Limpopo escarpment study area on aspects of the conservation biology of the species in South Africa need to be conducted.

Biology

Biology

The Taita Falcon is a small and highly specialised, bird-hunting raptor, which is sparsely and patchily distributed down the eastern side of sub-Saharan Africa. Named after the Taita Hills in Kenya, from where it was first described, the Taita Falcon is a rare and poorly known species, with an estimated global population of <500 pairs. In South Africa the species is regarded as one of the country’s rarest breeding birds and is listed as Critically Endangered.

The Taita Falcon is a small, thickset falcon capable of powerful flight. It has dark upper parts, a whitish throat and cheeks, black moustachial stripes and rufous patches on its nape. They are usually found singly or in pairs, perching unobtrusively on cliff ledges or in small trees growing on the cliff face. It feeds almost exclusively on small birds, with all prey taken in flight. Its nest is a simple scrape on a sheltered ledge on a cliff face, often overlooking a river valley or woodland. Breeding success is generally poor, with estimates of its age of first breeding, length of incubation and capacity to re-lay after clutch failure suggesting that the reproductive potential of the species is quite low.

Distribution & Habitat

Distribution & Habitat

The Taita Falcon is considered uncommon to rare throughout its known global range in eastern and southern Africa. Records are patchy as their natural habitat can be difficult to access on a regular basis. Its small size and unobtrusive behaviour also means that it is frequently overlooked by observers, resulting in a poor understanding of its range, distribution and population.

It has been recorded from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana, with a small number of birds occurring on the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces in South Africa. Fewer than 50 nest sites are actually known. Even in previously recognised areas of concentration, the species seems to occur irregularly, with territories prone to sudden abandonment.

Taita Falcons are largely restricted to well-wooded habitats, as well as mountains and incised river valleys where high, sheer rock faces are available as nesting and foraging sites. As such it is especially associated with gorges and escarpments, particularly while breeding.

Research & Conservation

Research & Conservation

Although the Taita Falcon’s rarity is thought to mainly be a consequence of its specialised habits, it could also be threatened by habitat loss through the clearing of woodland or the impoundment of major river systems, and poisoning by pesticides, perhaps especially where chemicals are sprayed to control numbers of queleas, one of the falcon’s major sources of food.

BirdLife South Africa provides logistical to the Taita Falcon Species Gaurdians, The South African Taita Falcon Survey Team, who were tasked with extending our knowledge of this species, as well as its range and population in southern Africa, the South African Taita Falcon Survey Team has been conducting regular surveys of the Mpumalanga/Limpopo escarpment since 2006, and of the Batoka Gorge system downstream of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, since 2013. The core members of the team are Dr Andrew Jenkins and Anthony van Zyl.

Annual surveys of the Mpumalanga/Limpopo escarpment continue with plans to extend surveys into the Niassa region of Mozambique.

The South African Taita Falcon Survey Team

Tasked with extending our knowledge of this species, as well as its range and population in southern Africa, the South African Taita Falcon Survey Team has been conducting regular surveys of the Mpumalanga/Limpopo escarpment since 2006, and of the Batoka Gorge system downstream of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, since 2013. The Team is headed up by Dr Andrew Jenkins and Anthony van Zyl.

The team benefitted over the past years from the expertise of raptor biologists and experts, including:

  • Lucia Rodrigues
  • Dr Alan Kemp
  • David Allan

Current volunteers to the project include:

  • Johan du Plessis
  • Kyle Walker

BirdLife South Africa project support

  • Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson
  • Linda van den Heever
  • Dr Melissa Whitecross

A word of thanks to our sponsors

The surveys are made possible through the generous support of Beth Hackland, Josh Crickmay, Niall Perrins (Bustards Birding Tours) and other individual donors .