New Police Chicks

 As the red list of species seriously endangered grows year-by-year efforts are being made to save some of these from extinction. We have our favorites and are more ready to put our hands in our pockets for these species. It is interesting that many of the most popular species are predators such as big cats or hawks and falcons.

The big problem for so many species is the loss of their habitat to some form of human exploitation.  A good example is the New Zealand Falcon, which is that country’s only endemic raptor and is running out of habitat. But it also has a particular problem in that it nests on the ground, so its young are vulnerable to hungry cats, dogs, possums and stoats.

It feeds on small birds and that has inspired New Zealand to fund the ‘Falcons for Grapes’ program since 2005, in which they have been trying to encourage falcons to live in the vineyards to stop the smaller birds gorging themselves on grapes.

The falcon police have worked out well for the vineyard owners but the question remains is this life good for the falcons? Kross et al from the U o Canterbury have attempted to answer that question with their paper in PLoS ONE (1). In short the answer is yes.

The mums and dads feed their falcon chicks more and better quality food than falcons studied in wilder non-agricultural regions. Now they do get some food supplementation as pay for the policing job, but even when allowance is made for that the feeding is better. They even take more trouble infood preparation by pre-plucking before it is offered to these pampered chicks.

It seems that the program is win-win with healthier, brawnier, new police chicks ready to keep the grape pilferers out with the threat of capital punishment.


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