Research results (2006)

Historical overview, Distribution and Population

In Armenia, LK breeding was historically confirmed by S.K. Dal' (1954) predominantly in the mountain steppe and semidesert zones and Lake Sevan basin in small numbers, occasionally reaching elevations of up to 1920 m; and by A.F. Leister & G.V. Sosnin (1942) in 1928 in Yerevan.

In 2006 research and monitoring activities carried out in July, August and September were mostly channeled to assess the species status, number of breeding pairs, natural and human-induced threats and foraging habitat. Two colonies are known from the western part of Sisian plateu, positioned in Gorayk IBA at a high altitude of about 2000 meters, where Lesser Kestrels nest in roof holes of old towers (Fig 1, 2, 3). The size of the colonies ranges between 15 to 25 breeding pairs, depending on the year, breeding conditions and prey availability. The species may potentially breed in other parts of the country due to adult and juvenile birds sighted occasionally in the post-breeding periods. Although the known colonies are being monitored and targeted for conservation measures, the population trend for Armenia is unknown.

 

Fig.1 and 2. Access to LK nest holes

 

Fig. 3 Close-up view of LK chicks in the nest holes

 

Habitat choice

 

 


Prefers open pasture meadows, cereal and hay fields. During the breeding season the species resorts predominantly to mountain steppe and semidesert; outside of the breeding season occurs throughout the country, from 800 – 3000 m (Fig. 4).

 

Fig. 4 Typical habitat of Lesser Kestrel

 

Food

 

 


In Armenia, the species prey mainly on small rodents, lizards and locusts (Orthoptera) (Fig. 5). During the breeding, diet may vary between years depending on the availability of prey. For example, in 2007 locusts predominated in the diet, while in 2006 it was essentially based of mammalian rodents when, in 2005 it was joint-based of grasshoppers and rodents.

 

Fig.5. Remnants of mice collected at nest sites.

 

Threats to Lesser Kestrel in Armenia

 

 


Preliminary research on constraints and interviews with personnel of local tower carried out in February, when the species is away for a non-breeding season, suggested that repair work and change of roof settings of the building took place in October 2005. This factor has given reasons to believe that nest site availability could have become a limiting factor for the breeding colony and access to some nests has been potentially blocked. Further research supporting this evidence undertaken in May and June in the following year showed that some birds switched to a nearby building.

Limitted nest-site availability and disturbance is identified as critical threat in the area where renovations in rural buildings may limit access result in the lack of breeding sites to establish new colonies. Accidental hunting and chemical control of rodents in fields is another potential threat in the area where use of toxic rodenticides under cereal crops is known.

Predation at nest may occur while adult birds are away. Nest predation by corvids (particularly magpies observed in the area) is thought to be another limitting factor. Two (2) eggs were taken away and one egg was found broken (Fig. 6). However, predation may take place not only by corvids but also by terrestrial predators (e.g. marten Martes foina) if juvenile birds not yet capable of flight may jump from the nest and end up on the ground (Fig7.).

 

Fig.6. LK egg found broken at the nest    Fig.7. Juvenile bird found on the ground near nest

 

Advocacy work

 


As a first priority our training efforts targeted local site support group, the staff working in the tower and local schoolchildren. Education materials covered information on LK breeding and foraging requirements of the species, current and potential threats and other limiting factors. Economic importance of LK as a raptor species helping to control agricultural pests and the LK- friendly agricultural farming techniques were specifically emphasized.

Thematic sessions and video materials on LK and other raptor species were presented to local community at public events and promotional materials (posters and leaflets) were distributed among relevant stakeholders. Regular discussions and negotiations with the local authorities were undertaken to increase awareness and ecological knowledge (in particular with reference to LK ecology, feeding and habitat requirements).

 


Recent conservation activities

 

 


A "twinning" project implemented jointly with the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) (BirdLife France) and funded by the European Commission (DG Environment) targetted monitoring of one of LK colonies near Gorayk and helped to identify the actual and potential threats menacing the species. It allowed an exchange of experience in the area of monitoring and creating public support. Based on the flagship species Lesser Kestrel, the general Management Plan was developed for Gorayk IBA. It set conservation priorities for the area and incorporated data available on the species and habitat at Gorayk IBA into the long-term conservation strategy.

Since mid 2005 within the framework of the project 'Development of an IBA Caretaker Network in the Priority Corridors of the Caucasus' funded by theCritical Ecosystems Partnership Funds (CEPF) and coordinated by BirdLife International, Regional (Caucasus) Species Action Plan was developed for Lesser Kestrel identifying threats and conservation needs across the region and at site level.

A plan of action is drafted to safeguard LK population in an IBA and aims at mounting artificial nest boxes for LK to monitor their recruitment and occupancy, and test whether the nest site availability is limiting LK population.

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