The use of agricultural, open and forest habitats by juvenile Mauritius Kestrels Falco punctatus
Burgess, M. D., Black, R. A., Nicoll, M. A. C., Jones, C. G. and Norris, K. (2009) The use of agricultural, open and forest habitats by juvenile Mauritius Kestrels Falco punctatus. Ibis, 151 (1). pp. 63-76. ISSN 0019-1019
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2008.00888.x
Knowledge of tropical raptor habitat use is limited and yet a thorough understanding is vital when trying to conserve endangered species. We used a well studied, reintroduced population of the vulnerable Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus to investigate habitat preferences in a modified landscape. We constructed a high resolution digital habitat map and radiotracked 13 juvenile Kestrels to quantify habitat preferences. We distinguished seven habitat types in our study area and tracked Kestrels from 71 to 130 days old during which they dispersed from their natal territory and settled within a home-range after reaching independence. Mean home-range size was 0.95 km(2) characterized by a bimodal pattern of intensity around the natal site and post-independence home-range. Compositional analysis showed that home-ranges were located non-randomly with respect to habitat but there was no evidence to suggest differential use of habitats within home-ranges. Native and semi-invaded forest and grassland were consistently preferred, whereas agriculture was used significantly less than other habitats. No difference was found between the available length of edge dividing native forest and grassland within a home-range when compared to that available within a 2.35-km buffer around their nest-site, based on the maximum distance a juvenile was found to disperse. Repeating the analysis in three dimensions gave very similar results. Our results suggest that Mauritius Kestrels are not obligate forest dwellers as was once thought but can also exploit open habitats such as grassland. Kestrels may be using isolated mature trees within grassland as vantage points for hunting in the same way as they use the natural stratified forest structure. We suggest that the avoidance of agriculture is partly due to a lack of such vantage points. The conservation importance of forest degradation and agricultural encroachment is highlighted and comparisons with the habitat preferences of other tropical falcons are discussed.