Ornis Hungarica. vol.23(1). (2015) p.32-47.
Hunting efficiency of Red-footed Falcons in different habitats
We studied hunting success of 13 male Red-footed Falcons by radio-telemetry in the second phase of chick rearing. We coded 484 hunting events, and the success measured in captured prey biomass/minute was exceedingly high in corn fields. This is mainly caused by the fact that the effectiveness of hunting for vertebrate prey was high on the harvested stubble fields. Moreover the observed falcons hunted for insects in these stubble field and alfalfa fields most successfully. In the studied habitat the chick feeding period of Red-footed Falcons coincide with the harvest of cereal fields, and the suddenly created lower vegetation cover increases temporarily the accessibility of prey items.
Till they were available and could be efficiently harvested, the falcons hunted on the fields within a 1 km radius from the nesting colony for the more profitable vertebrate prey. Thereafter they searched for vertebrate prey on the fields located at average 1–2.5 km distance from the colony. In the later zone falcons started to hunt insects, too, but approximately third of the captured insects (36.4%) was consumed immediately and was not delivered to the colony. Conversely larger prey was almost always (98.1%) carried directly to the nest site. Only one part of the Field Voles was observed to be eaten regularly: the brain. Finally later in the breeding season falcons were observed more and more often to hunt in the nearest fields again, this time for insects. Probably due to the depletion of the distant plots, the closer fields with lower investment became a competitive alternative for the birds.
Our results highlight the fact that even for such characteristic short-grass specialist birds as Red-footed Falcons the prey sources offered by arable lands might be temporarily exploited with success. Hence it is very important to integrate the measures offered by agri-environment schemes into the management of this threatened species.