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Episode 229: The Migrating Amur Falcon

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Birds continue to fascinate us, and the Amur Falcon is no exception. This fascinating raptor migrates farther than any other bird of prey on Earth. They reside in the Amur region of north China, Mongolia, Russia for part of the year, and then go on an incredible journey all the way down to South Africa. In this week’s podcast we cover just how these birds make such an incredible trek. We also highlight Nagaland in Eastern India. It is a critical stop for the Amur Falcon before a long trek over the Indian Ocean. For years the Amur Falcon was poached by the tens of thousands. But conservationists, to include this week’s interview Nuklu Phom, another Whitely Fund for Nature award winner, stepped in and stopped it.

Amur Falcon History

The Amur Falcon is from the Order Falconiformes. Once this Order included many other birds to include hawks, New World vultures and many others. Genetics has altered what we know of these birds and today Falconiformes includes just falcons and caracaras. The Amur Falcon is from the Family Falconidae, which today is around 60 species of falcons and caracaras. These birds have a “cosmopolitan” distribution, meaning they are found throughout the world minus the poles. They have been very successful in evolving and surviving in a variety of environments to include deserts, rainforests, tundra, tropical islands and many others. The Amur Falcon is in the genus Falco (40 species of falcons) and has the scientific name Falco amurensis.

Birds have been evolving for around 160 million years. Raptors first start appearing the geological record roughly 50 million years ago. The diversity of raptor-like species did not really begin until roughly 20 million years ago. Around this time we started to see many species of birds of prey emerge. Falcons began to emerge roughly 7 million years ago. Modern falcons emerged around 2 million years ago.

Amur Falcon Facts

Amur Falcons are incredible creatures. They are the longest migrating bird of prey on the planet. For parts of the year they reside in the Amur region of Asia. They are found in Mongolia, Northern China and parts of Russia. Then starting in the fall months for the Northern Hemisphere they begin their long trek all the way down to South Africa. It is an incredible journey that takes many weeks while traveling thousands of miles (kilometers). One area along their route is Nagaland, India. It is here where millions of Amur Falcons stop to rest and replenish their reserves. It is timed when mass termites emerge to swarm and gives the falcons time to build up their reserves. After spending time in Nagaland, they begin their trek to Africa and fly over the Indian Ocean, nonstop, for 3 to 4 days. Once they arrive in East Africa, the Amur Falcon continues south until they reach South Africa. It is an amazing feat for such a small bird of prey.

Amur Falcons are primarily insectivores. They may occasionally eat small rodents, reptiles, and other birds. They particularly specialize in eating insects that swarm. So things like termites are a favorite. These birds while some of the most well traveled, only live about 14 years in the wild and can live up to 18 years under human care. While traveling, they fly at speeds of 19 to 25 MPH (30-40 kph). They nest starting around May each year in the Amur region of Asia.

Amur Falcon Conservation

They are currently considered Least Concern by the IUCN. However, Amur Falcons were being poached in the tens of thousands in Nagaland, India before conservationists stepped in. Please listen to Nuklu Phom’s interview (next episode) to learn more about these birds incredible conservation success story.

June 23, 2021
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