Welcome to Ireland’s first “Kestrel Cam”, live feed from inside the nest of a pair of common kestrels situated in one of Mannok’s quarries. The cameras have been placed in partnership with Netwatch to allow Queen’s University PhD student, Kez Armstrong, to study the birds and improve our understanding of their behaviours so we can continue to protect the species. We are sharing the camera feed publicly to help raise awareness of and interest in the common kestrel, whose population is on the decline on the island of Ireland and has recently been added to the Red List as a species now at risk of extinction in Ireland. Mannok’s drive to protect and enhance biodiversity on our land and across our local region is an important part of our wider sustainability commitment and we work closely with relevant educational institutions and wildlife and biodiversity groups to ensure we can help our local ecosystem thrive.
Mannok’s Environmental Team have observed a pair of common kestrels nesting in the quarry in recent years, returning in early spring each year and choosing the same nook in the quarry face to nest for the season. The site is a fully operational quarry, so we have taken great care to ensure there is no disturbance to the nesting birds by maintaining a safe distance and protecting the area around the nest. The returning birds have not been deterred in any way by the nearby activities of the working quarry, successfully breeding each year.
To enable the study of the birds, great care was taken by our Environmental Team, working in partnership with Netwatch, to install non-intrusive cameras (under licence from NPWS) in the nesting site over the winter months when the birds had vacated the nest. The two kestrels were first seen back at the site in February and were not put off by the presence of the discrete cameras. With the pair now settled in the same site, we hope to capture and share the experience throughout the nesting season.
Whilst studying the kestrels, Queen’s University’s Kez Armstrong will also keep us updated on the activities and progress through a regular Kestrel Blog. It is a way for everyone to follow the story of the Kestrel’s season and we will continue to engage with local schools and wildlife bodies to promote and inform people about the Kestrels and the need to protect them.
Kestrels are a species of falcon belonging to the Falconidae family. They are a small bird of prey with long, relatively narrow wings and tail. They are easily spotted by their characteristic hovering flight when hunting for prey. Male and female birds have different plumages but both sexes are recognised by their brown back and inner upperwings which contrast with their dark upper outer wings. Males have one, terminal band on the upper tail and show a blue-grey upper tail and rump; females have a series of bands on a brown upper tail. Males have a blue-grey finely streaked head and females a brown streaked head. Both sexes have finely barred underwings with dense spotting on the body.
Kestrels provide essential ecosystem services on agricultural land through pest control (eating small mammals) and can be an indicator of the health of the ecosystem. By understanding what is happening to their population, we can gather information about the rest of the animals that depend on this habitat for at least a part of their lifecycle.
The worldwide population of Common Kestrels is in decline, however they are listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN list due to their widespread range across Europe, Asia and Africa.
Kestrels are declining on the island of Ireland, however they are encountered too infrequently in Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS) for annual trend indices to be generated in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland they are showing an annual rate of decline of >3% per year.
There is growing evidence that changes in land-use practices are reducing prey availability, increasing persecution and contributing to a decline in reproductive success, and other possible factors include intra-guild predation rates increasing with rises in populations of other raptors and corvids.
Bird populations have long been considered to provide a good indication of the broad state of wildlife. This is because they occupy a wide range of habitats and respond to environmental pressures that also operate on other groups of wildlife. Birds also have huge cultural importance and are highly valued as a part of the natural environment by the general public. However, they are declining at a rapid rate, in fact, one in eight of all birds are now globally threatened. 52% of our global raptor species are now in decline, and 50% of all falcon species are declining at an alarming rate.
The global loss of raptors is worrying. They are charismatic species and often carry a flagship role in the habitats they inhabit. Reducing the abundance of raptors could cause a cascade effect through the ecosystem, changing the numbers and behaviours of their prey. In fact, this is something we can even see here in Ireland, without a high abundance of avian predators, we have a huge influx of jackdaws, crows and magpies which predate on passerine species nests and eggs.
According to Red List assessments, the biggest threats to raptors are habitat destruction, persecution, unintentional poisoning, electrocution and climate change. They are difficult to monitor because they occur at low population densities and are difficult to detect. To conserve raptors we need to gather information on their distribution and ecological requirements to increase conservation action.