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Phenology, variation in habitat use, and daily activity patterns of Eleonora’s falcon overwintering in Madagascar

Abstract

Context

The vast majority of the global population of Eleonora’s falcon overwinters in Madagascar, where the natural environment is threatened by human-induced habitat changes, particularly intensive forest degradation.

Objectives

We described Eleonora’s falcon phenology and habitat use based on fine-scale telemetry data and field surveys, and investigated which environmental parameters shape the observed patterns, to obtain a better insight into the species’ ecological requirements during the wintering season.

Methods

We used high resolution GPS telemetry and remotely sensed data to establish bird–habitat associations and investigate spatiotemporal activity. We also verified habitat composition through ground surveys.

Results

Eleonora’s falcon exploits a variety of habitats, exhibiting a distinct phenological pattern in their use. The species exhibits high site fidelity, moving progressively from more open areas towards landscapes with denser tree cover, possibly as a response to spatiotemporal patterns in food abundance. Time budget analysis revealed that Eleonora’s falcon dedicates just about 15% of its daily activity to foraging, which is performed almost exclusively during daylight hours, with a greater tendency to forage at higher elevations with denser tree cover. On-site assessment of habitat composition revealed that existing habitat maps overlook small fragments of habitat and land use. However, the species’ overall preference for humid forest suggests ongoing deforestation would adversely affect the availability of preferred habitat.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that GPS logger technology, when combined with ground surveys, can enhance our understanding of long-distance migratory bird species’ ecology at finer and more ecologically relevant scales.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank W. Cresswell and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on a previous version of the manuscript. We also thank P. Charilaou, for his support on the project. We are especially grateful to the late A. Crabtree for his invaluable guidance in the field in Cyprus. We would like to thank D. Randrianjafiniasa and R. Loukman for their assistance in the field in Madagascar. Work in Cyprus and in Madagascar was funded by the A. G. Leventis Foundation, The Peregrine Fund, the William A. Burnham Memorial Fund, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Sovereign Base Areas Administration (SBAA). The 2009–2010 Telemetry Project was funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation through the “Survey and Conservation of Seabirds in Greece” Project, while the 2015–2018 telemetry project was funded by the European Union LIFE Instrument and the Green Fund through the “LIFE ElClimA LIFΕ13 NAT/GR/000909” Project, which also partly-funded fieldwork in Madagascar. A Bird Ringing License and a Research License to attach bird transmitters in Cyprus were obtained from the SBAA Environment Department. The Ministry of Environment and Energy (Greece) kindly granted permission for capturing and tagging Eleonora’s falcon in breeding areas in Greece and all field surveys and bird handling complied with current laws in Greece. Access to National Parks in Madagascar was arranged in cooperation with The Peregrine Fund Madagascar team.

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Correspondence to Alexander N. G. Kirschel.

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Hadjikyriakou, T.G., Kassara, C., de Roland, L.R. et al. Phenology, variation in habitat use, and daily activity patterns of Eleonora’s falcon overwintering in Madagascar. Landscape Ecol 35, 159–172 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-019-00940-6

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Keywords

  • Falco eleonorae
  • Telemetry
  • Ground-truthing
  • Fidelity
  • Humid forest
  • NDVI