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Orange-breasted Falcon Project-2004 Report
Published 31 May 2005
One of the lesser studied falcons in the world, the Orange-breasted Falcon (OBF) is arguably one of the most beautiful. It is similar in coloration to the Bat Falcon, but is larger and has proportionately bigger feet than its more commonly seen cousin. Orange-breasted Falcons are swift fliers and feed on birds and bats which they catch in flight. They regularly nest on cliff ledges, but also have been found nesting in epiphytes growing on emergent trees. OBFs usually lay three eggs and chicks remain in the nest for about six weeks before fledging.
After conducting studies and surveys for this species, which began in the late 1970s and continue today, we found this elusive falcon appears to be largely absent from suitable habitat throughout much of Central America. A northern population in Belize and Guatemala may be isolated from the species’ southern range.
To increase our knowledge of this species and help safeguard it from possible extirpation in portions of its range, we established captive populations at both our Neotropical Raptor Center (NRC), Panama, and at research associate Bob Berry’s Wolf Creek Ranch facility in Wyoming. Two colonies greatly reduce the potential for catastrophic loss of all birds and double the opportunity to develop effective captive breeding methods. We began collecting nestlings and eggs for hatching to develop our captive breeding stock in 2001 and expect at least one of these pairs to begin breeding activity in 2005 or 2006.
We surveyed all known Orange-breasted Falcon nests in Panama and Belize in 2004. We located two additional pairs in Belize bringing the total to nine known OBF sites in Belize. Of these nine nests, eight showed nesting behavior and were believed to be incubating eggs or brooding young chicks. As the season progressed, we noticed that most nests had failed and we could only confirm the fledging of one young male. We suspect that natural predation is one of the main causes for this high rate of nesting failure.
In Panama we surveyed all four known nests. We could only confirm the hatching of two nestlings at one site. A second pair appeared to have failed during incubation, while no young were produced at the other two nests.
At the Neotropical Raptor Center, we continued to monitor the breeding pairs closely. Our two pairs were still too young to breed in 2004 but were beginning to show signs of courtship behavior in early 2005.
We will continue monitoring wild populations of Orange-breasted Falcons in Panama and Belize and, as possible, expand the searches to locate nests in new areas. Due to the high rate of nesting failure that we have witnessed, in the 2005 season we plan to collect eggs during the early stages of incubation and bring them to our facilities in Panama where they will be artificially incubated. We expect a high rate of hatchability and chick survival. Up to three females will be kept as part of our captive-breeding program while all additional birds will be released back into the forests of Belize in a first-ever attempt to release this species by hacking. This management technique most likely will allow the wild pairs to lay a second clutch of eggs in the same breeding season, thereby potentially increasing the year’s annual production. These first experimental releases will be a great learning experience for possible future restoration efforts.
The field portion of this project is conducted by Angel Muela and Marta Curti. Mary Schwartz and Saskia Santamaría are responsible for captive-breeding, with advice provided by Cal Sandfort. Nadia Sureda made important contributions during 2004. José de los Santos López, Noel Guerra, Próspero Gaitán, Bolívar Rodríguez, Omar Fernández, and Edwin Jiménez raise raptor food and provide maintenance of the NRC facilities.
Robert Berry assists as a research associate in developing captive-breeding techniques for this species. Financial support was provided by Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation.
In Panama we work with authorization of the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente (ANAM) and the Comarca Emberá-Wounaan. Assistance was provided by Piñas Bay Resorts, S.A. In Belize we work with authorization of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. Valuable in-kind support and assistance were provided by Hidden Valley Inn.