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Orange-breasted Falcon Project-2006 Report
Published 11 May 2007
As a charismatic, colorful, and approachable signature species of the rainforest, the Orange-breasted Falcon (OBF) can play a significant role in the conservation of the tropical forest for the benefit of all biodiversity supported by this habitat. Despite our long history of working with this falcon there is still much to learn about its biology, habitat needs, and the factors limiting its distribution. For example, for reasons still to be understood, this species appears to be absent from apparently suitable habitat in much of Central and South America. Our work occurs in Panama and Belize, and consists of field studies, experimental captive breeding, and release.
Due to the frequency of nesting failure that we have seen in both Panama and Belize, one of our goals is to determine the reasons for this apparent low productivity. This year we continued to observe OBFs during their breeding season, which usually lasts from early March to late June. In Panama, we monitored four breeding pairs located in the remote forests of Darien National Park. Access to these nests is only possible by helicopter. Only one of the four nests was active, and only two chicks were produced. In Belize, we monitored seven OBF breeding pairs. By the end of the breeding season we were only able to confirm the successful fledging of one chick from each of two nests. We also visited a previously active site which has now been determined to be inactive. The cliff remains intact but much of the surrounding forest has been cut down. No OBFs were heard or seen at this site during our visit.
To learn more about this elusive species’ behavior, gain a better understanding of their breeding habits and prey base, and to find possible clues to nesting failure, we placed a camera at one nest in Belize. This nest is located in a large limestone sink hole, so we had to rappel 120ft (40 m) to reach the nest and install the camera. We recorded over 120 hours of footage over several weeks, including the female incubating her eggs, and the adults feeding the one chick that hatched. We also recorded the female feeding on the remains of a broken eggshell. Volunteers spent six weeks camping at the nest site, from the time the chick hatched until fledging, observing many activities not caught on camera, such as hunting behavior and prey exchanges. The pair was observed feeding on bats, parakeets, and even a small reptile. Additional pairs will be observed and filmed in 2007 to increase sample size.Captive Breeding
The year 2006 was a landmark year for captive propagation of OBFs. For the first time in over 20 years we successfully bred OBFs in captivity. Sixteen eggs were laid in five clutches by the three 2002 hatch-year females. Four fertile eggs were produced by artificial insemination, and four healthy chicks, two males and two females, successfully hatched. All four of these birds will remain in captivity to further augment the captive-breeding population.
We will continue monitoring wild populations of Orange-breasted Falcons and, as possible, expand the search to locate nests in new areas. We will install two remote cameras in two different nests to find out more about the breeding behavior of these rare falcons, and to determine the reasons for the high nesting failure in the wild. We will also look for potential release sites in Central America where we can begin to establish an experimental population.
If captive breeding pairs produce enough young in 2007, we will continue our experimental releases. Goals of the release include testing new telemetry systems to track the movements and activities of the young falcons prior to and, if possible, after independence.
To identify the factors that limit OBF distribution and abundance, we aim to establish and study an experimental breeding population within its former range. Factors that may limit OBF populations include suitable nest sites in cliffs and emergent trees, and availability of food—birds and bats of suitable size. These factors may be influenced by environmental effects such as habitat, climate, and predation. Human effects such as logging, agriculture, and shooting may play a role as well. The species’ size, sexual dimorphism, wing-loading, speed, maneuverability, and other physical characteristics may help or hinder survival in various habitats—for example, flat versus mountainous terrain may offer unique hunting opportunities or impediments to prey availability.
Field work is coordinated and carried out by Angel Muela and Marta Curti. Robert Berry is responsible for captive breeding at his facility in Wyoming. Volunteers monitoring the pair of OBFs at the sinkhole in Belize were Chris Hatten, Phil Hannon, Ryan Phillips, and Cody Phillips.
Robert Berry assists as a research associate in developing captive-breeding techniques for the species. In Panama we work with authorization of the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente (ANAM) and Comarca Emberá-Wounaan. Important assistance was provided by Piñas Bay Resorts, S.A. In Belize we work with authorization of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. The Belize Zoo/Tropical Education Center provided logistical support. Hidden Valley Inn continues to provide valuable assistance and support.
Financial support was provided by Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation.