A study on the status and distribution of raptors in Wayanad district, conducted from 2009 to 2011 at the instance of the Forest Department, has observed 30 species of these birds of prey and seven of owls. The Forest Department published the study report on Thursday.
Kites, eagles, buzzards, falcons, harriers, vultures, and such other birds are collectively called raptors.
Deepakumar Narayana Kurup, retired Deputy Director (Wildlife Education), Forest Department, who conducted the study, said Kerala was the habitat of 55 species of birds of prey, including owls.
The study observed that seven species of raptors bred in Wayanad. The critically endangered white-rumped vulture was found regularly breeding on three specific sites in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. The red-headed vulture, also critically endangered, was regularly observed in the district.
The study is the first to record the breeding of the Bonelli’s eagle and the spot-bellied eagle owl in Kerala. Brahmagiri in the district had evidence of breeding of the endangered Shaheen falcon. The report said the raptors appeared to migrate to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka during the monsoon.
The gregarious white-rumped vultures were seen to prefer the drier areas towards the east in the district, while the relatively solitary red-headed birds preferred the denser canopied forests towards the west. The various raptors were seen to prey on a variety of beings from insects to large mammals, such as the langur.
The white-rumped and the red-headed vultures were seen preying on young gaurs and sambar and spotted deer. The raptors fed on domestic chicken, flying lizards, frogs, spotted doves, snakes, giant squirrels, and blue-rock pigeons.
The study observed that the number of honey buzzard peaked from March to May, coinciding with the availability of honey in the forest areas. The pallid harrier, a near-threatened species, was found to be a regular winter visitor. The greater grey-headed fish eagle, also a near-threatened species, was observed twice in 2009 and once in 2010.
The study noted an increase in the number of the Bonelli’s eagle in May and June, coinciding with the breeding activity at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. On the other hand, the number of vultures increased during April to June, coinciding with the increased animal mortality in the area.
Crested serpent eagle, black eagle, and honey buzzard were ubiquitously distributed in all habitat types. But the black kite, a common species of the plains, was observed only once in the study area. Most of the migrant species come by November and leave by March. Most resident raptors were seen breeding from March to May.
The study noted that when large animals, such as elephants and gaur, died, the carcasses, soon on detection, were subjected to a post-mortem examination and immediately buried or burnt. This exercise denied the availability of food for scavenging species, such as the vulture and the jackal.
Dr. Kurup recommended immediate steps for the careful conservation of the raptor species not only in the existing habitats of Wayanad but also in erstwhile habitats such as Periyar and Parambikulam. Use of pesticides had reached alarming proportions, proving to be fatal to the raptors.