Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus


Justification of Red List category
This species formerly had an increasing population, but it has declined again, with disappearance from part of its range. It is listed as Endangered on the basis that it has a very small and declining population, which occupies a very small range in which habitat quality is in decline owing to the spread of introduced plant species.

Population justification
In 2005, the population was estimated at 800-1,000 individuals (V. Tatayah in litt. 2006), roughly equivalent to 530-670 mature individuals; however, in 2011-2012 this was revised downwards to just 400 birds, including c.250-300 mature individuals (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012); and latterly to 350-500 individuals, with c. 85-100 breeding pairs, i.e. 170-200 mature individuals (Jones et al. 2013).

Trend justification
At the end of the 1999-2000 breeding season, there was a total population of 500-800 individuals (C. Jones in litt. 2000), which had increased to an estimated 800-1,000 individuals by the start of the 2005-2006 breeding season (Burgess 2005; V. Tatayah in litt. 2006). However, monitoring in 2007-2008 estimated only 500-600 individuals, and 88 breeding pairs were recorded, which was lower than in 1997 when 99 were recorded (Cade 2008). The marginal population in the Moka Mountains in the north of Mauritius has apparently died out, with this area badly affected by exotic plant species (Cade 2008, Dale 2008), and no kestrels were present at 38 previously occupied locations in the south-western population (Cade 2008). The total population was estimated at 400 individuals in 2011-2012 and the current overall and on-going trend is assumed to be negative.

Distribution and population

Falco punctatus is restricted to Mauritius and has undergone a spectacular recovery from just four wild birds (including one breeding pair [Burgess 2005]) in 1974 (Safford and Jones 1997, Burgess 2005). By the end of the 1994 breeding season there were an estimated 222-286 birds in the population, following a successful recovery programme launched in 1973 (Nicoll et al. 2004). At the end of the 1999-2000 season, the population was estimated at the time to number 145-200 breeding pairs in a total population of 500-800 individuals (C. Jones in litt. 2000), divided into three sub-populations on mountain chains in the north, east and south-west of Mauritius (Jones and Swinnerton 1997). In 2007-2008, the population was estimated at 500-600 individuals by Dale (2008) and 800-1,000 individuals were estimated in 2005 (Burgess 2005, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in litt. 2006), but it is now thought unlikely that the population ever approached 1,000 individuals (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012), and may have only peaked at 350-500 individuals at the end of the 1990s (C. Jones in litt. 2012). By 2011-2012, the population was estimated to number c.300-400 individuals, with the small sub-population in the Moka Range in the north of the island apparently extinct (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012, Jones et al. 2013). Declines have also been observed in the south-western population, particularly in suboptimal habitat on the periphery of its range, since 2007-2008 (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012, Jones et al. 2013), with c.40-50 pairs and a pre-breeding season population of c.120-150 birds estimated to be there now (Jones et al. 2013). The eastern population has grown and stabilised at c.45-50 pairs and a total of 130-150 birds in the pre-breeding season (Jones et al. 2013). The population data from the 1970s to 2010 are being re-analysed to clarify what the peak population size was and what rate of decline has occurred (Jones et al. 2013). There is no record of dispersal to other locations despite intensive monitoring through colour ringing (Ewing et al. 2008, Senapathi et al. 2011).


Its primary habitat was native, evergreen, subtropical forests, but captive-bred birds have shown greater tolerance for degraded and open areas (Jones 1998, Carter and Jones 1999). They are no longer considered obligate forest dwellers but also exploit grassland (Burgess et al. 2009). Avoidance of agricultural areas may be partly due to a lack of isolated mature trees to use as vantage points (Burgess et al. 2009). It preys mainly on endemic arboreal Phelsuma day-geckos, as well as other reptiles, small birds, insects, and introduced mice and shrews (Temple 1977, Jones 1987, Jones et al. 2013). A territorial species, pairs may stay together for several years, with divorce occurring after failed breeding (Jones et al. 2013). It traditionally nests in volcanic rock-cavities, and probably tree-holes, within forest territories (Temple 1977, Jones 1987), but now even breeds in a few suburban areas (Jones and Swinnerton 1997). Clutches usually contain 3-4 eggs, but may range between 1 and 5 (Jones et al. 2013).


Deforestation by early colonists initiated declines, with less than 3% of original forest now remaining (Cade and Jones 1993). More recent declines appear related to organochloride pesticide-use in the 1950s and 1960s in agriculture and to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes (Cheke 1987a, Safford and Jones 1997). Black rats Rattus rattus, crab-eating macaques Macaca fascicularis, small Indian mongooses Herpestes javanicus and feral cats are all introduced predators of eggs, young or adults (Cade and Jones 1993, C. Jones in litt. 2000). Introduced plants, including traveller's palm Ravenala madagascariensis, Chinese guava Psidium cattleianum, Ligustrum robustum and the creeper Hiptage benghalensis have invaded much of the species's habitat, particularly in the north of the island (Burgess et al. 2008, Cade 2008). This may reduce the kestrel's hunting efficiency (Cade 2008). Birds in suboptimal habitat in the west have been lost when natural nest sites are absent (V. Tatayah in litt. 2012). In addition, the species suffered an extreme loss of genetic variation and high rates of inbreeding, due to the population bottleneck, which are considered sufficient to affect the long-term viability of the population (Ewing et al. 2008). Climate change may be affecting the species through the increase in wet days at the start of the breeding season leading to laying date becoming later (Senapathi et al. 2011).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. A recovery programme, at first concentrating on research, was initiated in 1973 (Nicoll et al. 2004). From 1984 to 1994, an intensive management programme significantly increased population numbers. Activities included captive propagation and restocking, supplementary feeding, nest-site enhancement, provision of nest boxes, nest guarding, control of predators around nest- and release-sites, clutch manipulations, brood manipulations, treatment of parasite infestations on chicks and the rescue of eggs/young from failing nests (C. Jones in litt. 2000). In the late 1980s, the species was re-introduced into the Bambous mountain range by release of captive-reared birds, and subsequent evidence suggests that there was no discernable difference between the survival rate of these birds and those bred in the wild (Nicoll et al. 2004). Since 1994, there has been no release of captive-bred birds (Jones 1998) and little active conservation management (Jones and Swinnerton 1997), although provision of nest-boxes and monitoring of survival and productivity continue (Burgess 2005). A few pairs still receive supplementary food to enable detailed behavioural studies and for public relations purposes (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Research is on-going into genetic variation so that populations can be managed to preserve genetic diversity (Jones and Swinnerton 1997, Groombridge et al. 2000, Groombridge et al. 2001, Ewing et al. 2008). In October 2005, it was announced that plans for the construction of a highway through the east coast mountains IBA had been cancelled, with a different route to be used (Anon. 2006). The construction of the highway would have damaged the south-eastern forest, home to about half the species's world population, centred around Ferney Valley, which has now become a conservation area (Anon. 2006, V. Tatayah in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue detailed population and ecological studies (C. Jones in litt. 2000), particularly using molecular techniques to monitor population size (Groombridge et al. 2001). Eventually, consider translocating birds to islands such as Réunion, although not until the endangered reptile populations on those islands are secure elsewhere (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Continue and expand provision of improved long-lasting nest boxes, particularly in the western population where natural nesting sites are lacking, and restart captive breeding and reintroduction.


20-26 cm. Small, chestnut-and-white falcon. Male noticeably smaller than female. Rich warm brown to chestnut upperparts, with black crescentic markings on wings and mantle. Gleaming white underparts with bold, black heart-shaped blotchings. In flight, wings relatively rounded and long, thin tail. Voice Repeated toee tooee or shorter tooit tooit.


Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Martin, R, Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Warren, B. & Westrip, J.

Jones, C. & Tatayah, V.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Falco punctatus. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/mauritius-kestrel-falco-punctatus on 04/10/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 04/10/2023.