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Lesser Kestrel in Jerusalem


Conservation of the Lesser Kestrel in Jerusalem Wilderness


Executive Summary

The Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) is a globally threatened species, listed as vulnerable. Its numbers have declined dramatically throughout the European breeding range. In Palestine, only 10% or less of the population prior to the 1950s still exists in the historical Palestine territory.

Due to this dramatic decline, it is crucial to develop management and conservation plans in order to maintain the breeding population. An extensive breeding survey thus took place in Palestine together with research into the limiting factors causing the population decline. Subsequently, conservation and management plans were developed to maintain the current breeding population and re-establish new colonies. Educational programs accompanied these activities in order to raise public awareness of the subject

This action plan scope is to conserve the of Lesser Kestrel in the area of the Jerusalem Wilderness (an IBA”s in Palestine), which is a globally threatened species classified as Vulnerable (Collar et al. 1994). It has shown a major decline across much of its breeding range (Tucker and Health 1994; Heredia et al. 1996).

This decline prompted the production of an action plan by Birdlife International in 1996, where some information were updated in the conservational and awareness aspects. Palestine Wildlife Society had carried out general educational activities and public awareness campaigns concerning the conservation of such a species and habitat.

Despite the fact that the protection of the globally threatened species is considered in the Palestinian legislation, there are not any studies on the status and trends of the taxa at national level nor do the habitats in which the restoration of species is an integral part of its conservation.

Due to this dramatic decline, it is crucial to develop management and conservation plans in order to maintain the lesser kestrel breeding population in its breeding range. Therefore, the aim of this species action plan is to:

  • Prevent extinction of the species,
  • Promote the monitoring and conservation of the species and its habitat
  • Enhance public awareness about value of the species
  • Encourage involvement of local community in its protection
  • Adopt as flagship species for the site
  • And upscale monitoring plans and conservation efforts for the Lesser Kestrel by the government on national basis

Biological Assessment

1.1 Taxonomy and biogeographic populations

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Falconiformes

Genus: Falco

Species: Falco naumanni (Fleischer, 1818)

The Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) is a monotypic species with no recognized subspecies. Genetic evidence suggests (Groombridge et al., 2002) that despite their similar appearance the lesser kestrel is not closely related to the common kestrel Falco tinnunculus.

1.2 Geographical scope of the action plan

The traditional colonies of Lesser Kestrels in Palestine were located in 4 areas, in the Wilderness of Jerusalem and, Mar Saba, Jericho and Jenin areas similar to the other locations, the populations in these 4 colonies have declined too, Map (1).


Map (1) Lesser Kestrel study areas in Plaestine in redstar

1.3 Distribution through the annual cycle

The breeding range is very large, covering the Western Palearctic south of 55°N.The species is a typical long-distance migrant to sub-Saharan Africa although a small number of European birds remain in Spain, Southern Turkey and Malta.

The largest known congregations of wintering lesser kestrels have been found in Senegal, Mauritania, West Mali and Niger (Pillard et al., 2004; Pillard et al., 2005), and few birds tagged with geolocators in Southern Spain were found overwintering in these areas (Rodriguez et al., 2009); birds from the Eastern European and Asian populations congregate in Southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa (BirdLife International 2008; Cramp and Simmons 1987) where roosts are regularly found and counted (Van Zyl, pers. com.).

On migration lesser kestrels fly in small groups or in loose flocks sometimes of hundreds individuals at altitudes up to 2000 m. Flocks may roost together in trees and the roosting places are very important also during the breeding season and especially before migration when they moult (Olea et al., 2004).

The non-breeding parts of the population (floaters) also congregate at common roosts although their role is not well known. Altogether this gregarious behavior makes the roost sites and the habitats nearby very important for the conservation of the species.


Map (2) Global Distribution of Lesser Kestrel

1.4 Habitat requirements

In the European range lesser kestrels are found in lowland areas with steppe-like grasslands and extensive crops. It breeds in human settlements with colonies located in walls or roofs of old houses, farm buildings, castles or churches; outside of settlements, rock and sand cliffs, quarries and heaps of stones are most commonly used.

All nesting locations must provide access (within range 1-3 km) to open areas for hunting, usually in steppe-like habitats, natural or managed grasslands and non-intensively cultivated land. Large insects, mainly Orthoptera and Coleoptera constitute the bulk of the diet which also includes small vertebrates (voles and shrews, but also birds and lizards) that are important in the early stage of breeding period.

The prey is often taken on the ground. Therefore prey diversity and abundance, and access to prey are the key habitat features important for management. Presence of single trees or wires (for roosting, resting, etc.) near the colonies seems favorable, especially in the post-fledging and pre-migratory period (De Frutos et al., 2009; Franco et al., 2005).

Post-breeding communal roosts of adult and juvenile individuals are important element of their breeding cycle, in late July to late September (pre migration). Roosts are big stop over sites, concentrating large parts of the breeding population. Favorable conditions for roosting and hunting are necessary to allow the species to prepare for migration.

The species is quite conservative and uses the same trees over many years. Known roost sites should be protected and availability of suitable foraging habitats within 9 km around them should be provided through management (De Frutos et al., 2009). Communal roosts (sometimes huge) are equally important in the non-breeding range. A roost discovered in Senegal held 28,600 lesser kestrels and 16,000 African swallow-tailed kites Chelictinia riocourii (Pillard et al., 2009). It inhabits open, grassy areas and feeds mainly on insects.

1.5 Survival and productivity

The clutch size is usually 3–5 eggs and both parents take turns incubating for 28 days. The chicks hatch asynchronously and the last one is often smaller and vulnerable to food shortages. The breeding success largely depends on the available quality and quantity of food resources and on weather factors (Rodriguez and Bustamante 2003).

With relatively high and constant adult survival, as reported in several Western European populations (Serrano et al., 2005, Hiraldo et al., 1996, Prugnolle et al., 2003), the population growth rate depends on productivity (local conditions at breeding areas) and recruitment/juvenile survival (Sahel rainfalls).

1.6 Population size and trend

The lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni), is a small diurnal raptor that is considered to be globally threatened and listed as vulnerable (BirdLife International 2000). It breeds in the Western Palearctic and winters mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a colonial species 224 with several breeding colonies in Israel and Palestine, where it breeds under the roofs of residential buildings in Jerusalem and other cities, as well as in the wild.

Many of the colonies became extinct while others have almost disappeared. The desertion of former colonies is an ongoing process, with some sites having been deserted only quite recently. Today, about seventy percent of the lesser kestrel population breed in Mediterranean habitats and thirty percent breed in desert habitats.

Sixty percent of the Mediterranean population breed in residential areas (under roofs) while the rest of the population breeds in natural areas like cliffs and quarries.

In Palestine and according to OSME (PWLS) Observation.com last year records were the following as table (1) below shows its records:

Table (1) observation records of Lesser Kestrel in Palestine throughout the year

While Table (2) below shows its records in the last 11 years

Table (2) Shows records of Lesser Kestrel since 2005

And Charts 1-2 below shows Lesser Kestrel presence since 2005:

Chart (1 ) shaws status of lesser Kestrel in Palestine

Chart (2) Lesser Kestrel presence since 2005


2.1 General overview of threats

The main cause for the decline of the lesser kestrel has been habitat degradation, mainly as a result of agricultural intensification and the associated land use changes. The replacement of grazed grasslands, extensive dry cereal, and pulses with taller and denser crops (e.g. sunflower, maize, vineyards, and other perennial plantations) has led to two important pressures:

  • reduced abundance of large insects
  • and decreased access to prey

The use of pesticides in modern farming has not been proven to have great direct effect on the lesser kestrels, but reduces prey populations and thus has an indirect effect (Donázar et al., 1993, Tella et al., 1998).

Factors affecting the breeding sites, especially the availability of suitable nest chambers (Franco et al., 2005), and the presence of competitors and predators (Serrano et al., 2004), have also contributed to local declines.

Although not many aspects of the reproductive biology and demography have been well studied in most part of the range, with its small body size and relatively high productivity, the lesser kestrel can be described as a typical r-strategist, responding to changes in the environment with quick population increases or more often decreases.


2.2 List of critical and important threats


  1. Factors reducing the breeding success

Those factors are mainly results of:

  1. Agricultural intensification and the associated
  2. Degradation of foraging habitats.

II.Brood mortality

Mainly caused by:

  1. Starvation (Hiraldo et al. 1996) and
  2. To a less extent other factors (e.g. heat waves and climate change) 
  3. Shortage of prey


  1. Loss of habitat diversity in the farmland  

Abandonment of crop rotations and cultivation of fallow land;

  1. Loss of set-asides,
  2. Expansion of perennial crops such as intensive olive plantations,
  3. Vineyards and other perennial crops in the Mediterranean are often on the expense of less productive arable lands, grasslands or traditional perennials (e.g. all leading to loss of biodiversity).


  1. Development of infrastructure and growth of urbanized areas in the rural areas.
  1. Road and other transport infrastructures.
  2. Irrigation of arable land leads to substitution of crops which in turn hosts less favorite preys and loss of favorable foraging habitat. 
  3. Afforestation of low-productive farmland with wood plantations was a significant cause.
  4. In all Arab countries including Palestine overgrazing (namely in very dry years) is detrimental for prey abundance.



1.4 Population viability analysis

Lesser Kestrel in the area of the Jerusalem Wilderness (an IBA”s in Palestine), which is a globally threatened species classified as Vulnerable (Collar et al. 1994). It has shown a major decline across much of its breeding range (Tucker and Health 1994; Heredia et al. 1996), this decline prompted the production of an action plan by Birdlife International in 1996, where some information were updated in the conservational and awareness aspects. Palestine Wildlife Society had carried out general educational activities and public awareness campaigns concerning the conservation of such a species and habitat.  See Tables 1-2 and Charts 1-2.

3. Policies and legislation relevant for Management

3.1 International conservation and legal status of the species


Global IUCN Red List (IUCN, 2010) Category:            Vulnerable (VU)

Criteria:         A2bce+3bce+4bce

This species has undergone rapid declines in Western Europe, equivalent to c.46% in each decade since 1950, on its wintering grounds in South Africa, equivalent to c.25% in each decade since 1971, and possibly in parts of its Asian range. Recent data indicate that these rates of decline are probably reduced.


European Union Treat Status (BirdLife, 2004)

Category:      Depleted

The species was stable or increased in south-western Europe during 1990–2000, but many south-eastern populations continued to decline, and the species underwent a small decline overall. Its total population size remains far below the level that preceded its decline, and consequently this globally threatened species is evaluated as Depleted in Europe.


SPEC (Species of European Conservation Concern) (BirdLife, 2004a)

Category:     SPEC 1 (2004) 

                European species of global conservation concern. 


EU Birds Directive - Council Directive on the conservation of wild birds (2009/147/EC)

 Category:     Annex I

 Aim: to protect wild birds and their habitats, e.g. through the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPA). The directive requires that species listed in Annex I 'shall be subject of special conservation measures concerning their habitat in order to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution’ and that 'Member States shall classify in particular the most suitable territories in number and size as special protection areas for the conservation of these species, taking into account their protection requirements in the geographical sea and land area where this Directive applies ’.


Bern Convention
Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats

Category:      Appendix II

 Aim: to maintain populations of wild flora and fauna with particular emphasis on endangered and vulnerable species, including migratory species. Each Contracting Party shall take appropriate and necessary legislative and administrative measures to ensure the special protection of the wild fauna species specified in Appendix II.


Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

Category:      Appendix II 

Aim: Appendix II refers to migratory species that have an unfavorable conservation status or would benefit significantly from international co-operation organised by tailored agreements. The Convention encourages the Range States to conclude global or regional Agreements for the conservation and management of individual species or, more often, of a group of species listed in Appendix II.


Convention on Migratory Species
 Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia


Category:   Category 1

Aim: To take coordinated measures to achieve and maintain the favorable conservation status of birds of prey throughout their range and to reverse their decline when and where appropriate. To this end, they will endeavor to take, within the limits of their jurisdiction and having regard to their international obligations, the measures specified in Paragraphs 7 and 8 of the MoU, together with the specific actions laid down in the Action Plan (Annex II of the MoU).


Category 1 species are those defined as Globally Threatened or Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List, and listed as such in the BirdLife International World Bird Database. The Memorandum encourages signatories to adopt, implement and enforce such legal, regulatory and administrative measures as may be appropriate to conserve these bird of prey and their habitats.



338/97 CITES –
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora


Category:     Appendix II

Appendix II shall include all species which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. 


The species is affected by the European policies on agriculture. The CAP Pillar II measures related to sustainable land management (LFA payments, agro-environmental measures and support for diversification of economic activities in rural areas) could play a key role in addressing the threats affecting the species.


3.2 National policies, legislations

The existing Environmental national legislation in SP has overlapping jurisdictions with other laws associated with weak law enforcement. There are only limited provisions in the Environmental Law No. 7 for 1999 dealing with biodiversity. Furthermore, the existing provisions related to biodiversity are inadequate to be harmonized and comply with the resolutions and obligations of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), they provide a basis for a national legislative framework for biodiversity conservation.

There are many factors that lead to the inability of enforcement of legislations in SP, including lack of experienced staff, absence of Environmental policy, financial and technical capacity of responsible departments, and unclear enforcement procedures for existing legislation.

Therefore, there is strong need for a mechanism to harmonize the existing legislations and policies through a comprehensive review and assessment. Under the umbrella of the general government policies of SP, there are a number of more specific policies, programmes and plans that either deal directly with biodiversity conservation and PAs, or are of immediate concern to it.

The most important laws are the following:

· State of Palestine Environmental Law: Palestinian Environmental Law was issued in 1999, it includes a full chapter with five articles on biodiversity. Chapter 5 of this law deals with the protection of natural, historical and archaeological areas and includes five articles:

 Article (40): tasks the Ministry of Environmental Affairs (EQA now) to “…prescribe bases and standards for the protection of natural reserves and national parks, monitor and declare them, and establish and designate the national parks and supervise them.” STATE OF PALESTINE FIFTH NATIONAL REPORT (CBD) 2015 76

Article (41): It is prohibited to hunt, kill, or catch the birds, marine and wild animals, and the fish specified in the bylaw of this law. Moreover, it is prohibited to possess, transport, walk with, sell or offer them for sale neither dead nor alive, or to damage their nests or the eggs.

Article (42): The Ministry (EQA now), in coordination with the competent agencies, shall specify the conditions necessary to guarantee the preservation of bio-diversity in SP.

Article (43): The Ministry (EQA now), in coordination with the competent agencies, shall set the bases and standers that determine the plants, wild and woodland are forbidden by these standards to be, temporally or permanently, picked up, harvested, damaged or cut off to ensure their endurance and continuation.

Article (44): postulates that “It shall be forbidden for any person to conduct activities or perform any action that may cause damage to the natural reserves, forests, public parks or archaeological sites, affect the esthetical aspects of such areas”. Generally, this article shows that, this is a clear obligation to protect natural heritage in PAs, the penalty for violations of this Article is very limited.

Article (72) of Chapter 3, which deals with penalties and other issues, states: “Any person violates the provisions of Article (44) of this law shall be penalized by paying a fine of not less than 20 and not more than 200 Jordanian Dinars, or the equivalent thereof in the legally circulated currency, and the imprisonment for a period not less than three days and not more than one month, or one of the two penalties.

” The Palestinian Environmental Law (1999) is considered old and urgently needs to be updated, this is because it is not comprehensive and not synchronized and harmonized with the CBD Strategic plan 2011-2020, and the CBD protocols, including Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Equitable Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources. In addition, it also lacks more detailed guidance on how the EQA should fulfill its obligations as stated mainly in Article (40) regarding the management of protected areas.

· Bylaw on Nature Protection, Nature Reserves, Protected Areas and National Parks: The Environment Quality Authority EQA (the legal successor of the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, which no longer exists) has been starting drafting the bylaw which will be developed in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant stakeholders in nature protection,

· Agricultural Law: The Law of agriculture No. 2 was issued in 2003, by the Ministry of Agriculture with chapter 2 on Protection of Nature and Agricultural Land and Soil Conservation includes one article related to the protected areas:

 Article (9) in cooperation with the other competent authorities, the Ministry shall develop a plan on the administration of natural reserves as well conservation of all plants and living beings which inhabit them. This is the only article related to biodiversity and nature protection mentioned in the agricultural law, and contradicts with articles of Environmental law on nature conservation mainly the management of protected areas.

 · Palestinian Basic Law: The Palestinian Basic Law (Article 33) states that a well-balanced and clean environment is a basic human right. Thus the preservation and protection of the Palestinian environment from pollution, for the sake of present and future generation, is a national duty.” This indicates that environmental preservation and protection should be one of the basic and important principles that guide governing SP. STATE OF PALESTINE FIFTH NATIONAL REPORT (CBD) 2015 77

· Palestinian Presidential Decree: Palestinian President issued a decree in January 2010 in which changes of forest and nature reserve lands to any uses other than nature conservation were prohibited.

 · National Spatial Plan of State of Palestine (2012): The Ministry of Planning and administrative affairs, leading the preparation of the National Spatial Plan of SP as a comprehensive scheme that takes into consideration the spatial dimension in directing development and the geographical distribution for economic and social activities, including biodiversity conservation, forests and PA's. The plan defines which areas should be dedicated to which uses, particularly in the context of a rapidly growing population, the ongoing rapid and often uncontrolled urbanization, the Israeli continuing military occupation and the potential return of refugees to SP from neighboring countries in the future

· The Palestinian National Development Plan for 2011-2013: highlights the environment: It including forests and nature reserves, as an indispensable part of the green infrastructure of SP, It acknowledges the importance of protected areas as part of this infrastructure and includes their rehabilitation and development among its objectives:

  1. “In order to protect and sustain our environment for future generations, we will step up our efforts to reduce contamination of air, water and soil; promote waste reduction, reuse and recycling initiatives; ensure mechanisms are in place for safe handling of solid waste and hazardous materials; rehabilitate our nature reserves and our coast line, and ensure environmental goals are reflected in land use planning and resource use policies and practices.
  2. ” It is difficult to gauge from the National Development Plan and other related documents the relative weight that biodiversity conservation and PA system development is given when it comes to inevitable conflicts with other development goals.

· National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP, 1999): Biodiversity conservation and protected areas in particular are covered by the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. The NBSAP’s first objective is the Conservation of SP’s Biodiversity, and the development and establishment of a representative PA system is listed as an immediate priority action.