Archived 2010-2011 topics: Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni): downlist to Near Threatened or Least Concern?

Link to current BirdLife species factsheet for Lesser Kestrel

Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni is currently listed as Vulnerable under criterion A on the IUCN Red List, because when last assessed its population was suspected of having declined by more than 30% over the last three generations. The global population declined substantially between 1950 and 1990, with recorded declines equivalent to c. 46% per decade since 1950 on its breeding grounds in south-western Europe and to c. 25% per decade since 1971 on its wintering grounds in South Africa (and possibly in parts of its Asian range, too).

Since the 1990s, however, the species’s breeding population has been stable or increased in south-western Europe, which holds around one third of its global population (BirdLife International 2004). Data collated in 2010 for a review of its EU Species Action Plan show that, while some small south-eastern European populations are still declining, the largest European population (>14,000 pairs) in Spain has increased (Iñigo & Barov 2010). Over the last three generations (17 years), therefore, the species’ total European population was probably roughly stable. Due to many successful conservation activities across its range, the species’ rate of decline has been slowed significantly, and since c. 2000 its population in Europe, Russia and Central Asia is suspected to have been stable or even slightly increasing (Galushin 2009).

Recent data from field counts of Lesser Kestrel on its wintering grounds in South Africa also indicate that the population has been stable (van Zyl 2007). This suggests that its global status ought to be revised to either Near Threatened or Least Concern, because its population appears to have stabilised and has not declined by more than 30% in the past three generations (17 years). Recent information about the population size and trends (since the mid-1990s) from elsewhere in the breeding range (especially Turkey, Central Asia and the Middle East) and wintering range (especially West and East Africa) are needed to complete this assessment. Comments on this proposal and any relevant information are welcome.

BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.

Iñigo, A. and Barov, B. (2010). Action plan for the Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni in the European Union. Draft prepared by SEO/BirdLife and BirdLife International for the European Commission.!enclosure=.2cba7229

Galushin, V. (2009) VII International Conference on the Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) in Almendralejo (Spain). Raptor Conservation 16: 3-4.

Van Zyl, A. (2007) Migrating Kestrel Project preliminary results for the 2005/2006 season. Gabar 18 (2): 1-8. [see also]

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8 Responses to Archived 2010-2011 topics: Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni): downlist to Near Threatened or Least Concern?

  1. Hi all,

    some anecdotal evidence for stable or slighlty increasing populations in Kazakhstan:

    1) In Tengiz-Korgalzhyn region, Akmola district, we have been counting five small colonies since 2005 (around 20-25 pairs) and did not notice any change, except small interannual fluctuations.

    2) In 2010 we surveyed a rather large, but rarely visited area in S Kostanai and W Kharaghandy districts (47°26′ to 50°28′ N and 64°17′ to 70°11′ E) in frame of the Altyn Dala conservation initiative of the Kazakh government and partner organisations. This is a core breeding area for Lesser Kestrel, bordered by the Torghay lowlands and Irghiz-Torghay in the West, and Lake Tengiz and the city of Dzheskhazghan in the South. An simple extrapolation of the number of birds found breeding would suggest about 600-700 breeding pairs for the whole area. Note that we did not stick to a proper (randomized) sampling design and our counts might be biased.

    3) There seems to be hardly any information on trends available from Kazakhstan. However, large-scale abandonement of villages and livestock stations (zimovki) in 1991-2000 seems to have provided a large number of additional nesting facilities across the entire core breeding area. Lesser Kestrels were recorded in four main nesting habitats in Central Kazakhstan in 2005-2010: under road bridges, in abandoned settlements, in holes of the poles of electrical power lines and at rocky outcrops in the Kazakh Central Hill area (Melkosopochnik). We found the largest colonies to breed derelict houses of abandoned settlements.

    Best wishes

    Johannes Kamp
    International Research Section
    Conservation Science Department
    The Lodge
    Bedfordshire SG19 2DL


  2. Nicky Petkov says:

    Just one comment on Johannes’s suggestion with the abandonment of villages and the increase the availability of nesting sites. It might be true the species occupies the abandoned houses, however the village abandonment might be associated with the abandonment of pastures and their overgrowing with taller vegetation which to my knowledge is not the preferred habitat compared to short grass pastures and fields where prey would be more accessible to them.

  3. Nicky Petkov says:

    I got comment from Vladimir Morozov from Russia on the Lesser Kestrel. Here is Vladimir’s comment:
    “According to the available published information, the number of lesser
    kestrels in the southern part of European Russia in recent years is stable but is at a level substantially lower than 50-60 years ago. In
    number of areas area it still has not recovered.”

  4. Nicky, thanks for your comment – an important point that I would be pleased to hear the opinion of other colleagues about.

    Despite spending months on grazed and overgrazed pastures around settlements during the last years, I have not noticed that this is a preferred habitat for Lesser Kestrels. In the tall-grass steppe zone, they seem to use abandoned fields a lot, possibly because of a high abundance of insects (locusts!) and voles. Vegetation in these areas is tall, but with larger patches of short Artemisia.

    However, tall-grass steppe populations seem to comprise only a handful of birds, the bulk seems to be found in dry and desert steppe, at least in Central Kazakhstan. In these areas, vegetation is very short and scarce naturally, and large insects ocurr in higher density, so grazing seems not to be necessary for Lesser Kestrel. Most of the abandoned buildings are former livestock stations anyway, consisting of a single or few houses, so they did not hold huge flocks that would have altered the vegetation considerably. Livestock was kept much less concentrated in Soviet times.
    I think what you suggest is more in issue in the tall grass steppe in S Russia than in Kazakhstan, where most Lesser Kestrels breed in the dry steppes.

    Some hints on habitat use in Kaz can be found here (sorry, not the most recent papers):

    Tella et al. (2004): Effects of land use, nesting site availability, and the presence of larger raptors on the abundance of Vulnerable Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni in Kazakhstan. Oryx 38:224-227.

    Parr et al. (2000): A baseline survey of Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni in south-east Kazakhstan, April-May 1997. Sandgrouse 22:36-42.

  5. Nicky Petkov says:

    I agree in the semi-desert areas not much of a difference. My comment was also in general as well as for small falcons hunting in shorter grass which is generally preferred as hunting habitat. Have to note I have been very briefly in Kazakhstan and outside of breeding season when most of the LK were obviously gone as I saw very few around in the country. Just to add that last year read a study suggesting uncontrolled use of all types of pesticides and herbicides imported in small quantities uncontrolled from and through the Chinese border and sold around in the country which should be a concern as well. The study presenting it was part of a PhD work done by a Kazakhstanian suggesting very weak centralised control over the use of substances and preference by local population due to the lower price of these “unknown substances”. So such aspect of the falling appart of the centralised system should be considered as well.

  6. I’m not a falcon expert, but a spectacular increase and range expansion has been recorded in SE Italy over the last 10 years. Not sure what the situation is in Sicily, the other Italian stronghold: but Prof Maurizio Sarà ( works on this species there, I’m sure he will be willing to give his advice.

  7. Hello from Spain

    Some evidence for increasing populations in Andalucia, South of Spain:

    1) Population has increased from 2.100 pairs in 1988 to 4.813 (more or less) in 2009 (129 % up)

    2)There are not great conservation problems to population level now, except abandonment and collapse of rural buildings, where lesser kestrel has half of breeding colonies and 40 % breeding pairs. However, Regional Goverment and local NGOs are working now to to provide alternative nesting sites. Next year (this year) we want to evaluate effectivness these alternative sites trough a global regional census.

    3) In the past, many breeding sites were lost cause restoration works of old buildings and sanitation of public buildings. However, control by goverment and social responsability by people have achieved recovery many of those sites.


  8. Rita Alcazar says:

    Lesser Kestrel in Portugal in the last 10 years has increased mainly due to the increase of nesting sites provided under conservation projects. The species uses mainly abandoned houses, which are decaying and that may disappear in the next future, and the new sites provided need some maintenance. The habitat in good condition is nowadays much more limited that in the past and the species is much more concentrated than before, which is more problematic considering stochastic events. Also these areas with favorable habitat are not economically competitive enough and are highly dependent upon agri-environment supports existent in farming funds, which trends have been so far highly unpredictable and delayed. Thought the recent population increase, the population estimates seems to be still much lower than 50-60 years ago when the species occurred in all country and in much higher numbers than nowadays.

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