Bad News from the Tagged Peregrine Falcon BSAK03 in Siberia



Falcon with tracker
Bad News from the Tagged Peregrine Falcon BSAK03 in Siberia
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For several days, we have not had any news from a female peregrine falcon that our ornithologists at BeBirds, the Belgian Bird Ringing Centre, had fitted with a tag while she was nesting in the Russian tundra in 2013.

The falcon was captured by our ornithologist, Didier Vangeluwe, on the 12th of July 2013, near her nest in the Taimyr Peninsula (Siberia). The goal of the project is to study the relationship between this species and the red-breasted goose, the smallest goose species in the world and one of the most endangered. A miniature GPS tag was attached to her back using a Teflon harness in order to closely observe and study her movements.

After successfully nesting in Siberia, the falcon migrated south and spent the winter of 2013-2014 off the coast of Azerbaijan, primarily on oil rigs in the Caspian Sea, several kilometres from the shore! At the end of April 2014, she headed back north to Siberia to nest, in exactly the same spot as in 2013. In the early hours of the morning on the 3rd of September 2014, she began her journey back to Azerbaijan and her favourite oil rig, arriving there after 23 days and a flight of more than 5,000 km!

But since mid-February, the news had become worrying – the tag, which transmitted her location four times a day, had gone quiet. Or not, as the case may be; it was still transmitting, but was stationary in the steppe, 30 km to the north-east of Baku. Either the falcon was dead, or the tag had fallen off.

To find out what had happened to her, contact was made with our embassy in Baku. Last weekend, less than 24 hours later, a team led by Maarten Mortier, attaché to the embassy and a bird-of-prey enthusiast, set out to search the area. In just a few hours, thanks to the geographic coordinates transmitted by the tag and the help of a GPS-equipped smartphone, they found the remains of the female peregrine falcon. She was lying dead in the steppes, at the foot of a power line. What happened to her? She probably hit the power line while in flight. Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds in the world, capable of pursuing their prey in a dive at more than 300 km/h. So, it is very difficult for them to avoid a collision if a cable happens to be in their path – a collision that will always be fatal. Knowing the cause of death gives us a better understanding of changes in bird populations and enables us to propose protection measures.

Against all expectations, however, the tag was no longer on the falcon’s back. The remains of the harness were found, but there was no trace of the technological wonder. It is likely that a fox took a bite out of the corpse and carried the tag a short distance away. Maarten and his friends will return to the site to try and finish their mission. What a team!

The bird ringing programme, which started in Belgium in 1927, is one of the tasks carried out by BeBirds, the RBINS’s Belgian Bird Ringing Centre. Bird ringing is a method used to monitor and study wild bird populations. You can find more information on the research conducted by the Institute’s team in this field in the 2014 Report.


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