Mauritius Kestrel

Description and biology

The Mauritius kestrel is a small member of the falcon family. Its plumage (covering of feathers) is mostly reddish–brown in color. The feathers on its breast are white, punctuated by dark heart–shaped markings. The bird has short, rounded wings that allow it to maneuver easily in the air, darting after prey.

This kestrel feeds primarily on geckos (small tropical lizards). It also eats insects (dragonflies, cicadas, cockroaches, crickets) and small birds (gray white–eyes, common waxbills, Indian house shrews).

Mauritius kestrels have an estimated home range of 370 to 740 acres (150 to 300 hectares). Their breeding season begins in September or October. Females then lay 3 eggs in a scraped–out hollow on a cliff, which take 30 to 32 days to hatch. After hatching, the young kestrels may stay with their parents until the beginning of the next breeding season.

Habitat and current distribution

The Mauritius kestrel is confined to remote areas in the southwestern part of Mauritius Island, which lies in the Indian Ocean about 450 miles (724 kilometers) east of the island of Madagascar. The bird prefers to inhabit cool evergreen forests where the trees form a canopy about 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground. Biologists (people who study living organisms) estimate the bird’s population at 650 kestrels, including about 100 breeding pairs.

History and conservation measures

When Mauritius was covered in vast forests, the kestrel was found throughout the island. Heavy logging and clearing of the forests in the twentieth century quickly destroyed the Mauritius kestrel’s habitat and food sources. By the 1950s, the bird was found only in the remote forests of the southwestern plateau. Twenty years later, biologists believed less than 10 birds remained alive.

Conservation efforts have focused on preserving the habitat of the Mauritius kestrel. In 1974, the 8,880–acre (3,552–hectare) Macabé–Bel Ombre Nature Reserve was created. In 1993, a national park linking this and other areas was declared, providing a greater protected region.

A captive–breeding program for the kestrel was initiated in the 1970s. Through this program, researchers have reintroduced Mauritius kestrels into their native habitat and also onto the neighboring island of Réunion. The program has been so successful that the kestrel has been removed from endangered status on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and is now classified as vulnerable.