Eleonoras falcon (Falco eleonorae) is a migratory species that breeds in the Mediterranean (Algeria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey) and Atlantic islands off the northwest coast of Africa (Canary Islands, Morocco). The global population size is estimated at around 15 000 breeding pairs, with the vast majority 12 299 pairs or over 85% breeding in Greece. The breeding period of this species is synchronised with the autumn flux of migratory passerines, which fly over the colonies and constitute its main food source. Nesting sites are located on uninhabited islets and rocky coasts in the Mediterranean. The Greek breeding colonies are widely distributed in more than 300 islands and islets, mainly in the Aegean Sea, while a few can also be found in the Ionian Sea. The first global census of the species (2004-2006) showed that the population is stable, but also provided valid indications for a northward shift in the species distribution in the Aegean. The reasons appear to be related to rising maximum summer air temperatures in the Eastern Mediterranean, which affect egg thermoregulation and lead to increased egg infertility, the predation of eggs and nestlings by rats, and a possible mismatch of the species breeding period with the changing passerine migratory flux over its colonies (also possibly attributable to climate change).
The objective of LIFE ElClimA was to facilitate the adaptation of Eleonoras falcon to ongoing and future climate change. The project partners planned to implement a series of targeted conservation actions to improve the species breeding performance, and the quality and availability of its foraging areas. The aim was to conduct monitoring actions to provide an updated report on the species population and breeding status, and to assess the birds foraging behaviour and habitat quality, as well as the impact on the habitats of land use changes and climate change. To improve the birds breeding performance the project team aimed to construct artificial nests, and to eradicate rats from key islet complexes to reduce the predation of eggs and chicks. To improve the quality and availability of food for the falcon another aim was to plant fruit trees and bushes, as well as to cultivate cereals and legumes at identified stopover sites for passerines.
LIFE ElClimA improved the breeding and foraging habitat of Eleonoras falcon (Falco eleonorae) in Greece, which hosts more than 85% of the species' global breeding population. The project therefore had a significant impact on the species at the global level.
The project team eradicated rats in a series of operations to improve the falcons breeding success, by reducing predation of eggs and chicks. This was done in two island complexes on a total area of over 700 ha, hosting 6% of the species national breeding population. These were the largest-ever rat eradication attempts in Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean, and used methods with minimal risk to non-target species. Following rat eradication, there were indications of recovery of native plant species and also Chukar partridge populations. By constructing and maintaining more than 1 000 artificial nests for Eleonoras falcon, the project improved the availability and quality of nesting sites on 12 islets at 5 sites, hosting 19% of the species national breeding population. This large-scale operation focused primarily on colonies in the southern parts of the Aegean Sea, an area most likely to be affected by climate change.
The project partners purchased 1 ha of land on Antikythira Island, where an innovative refuelling oasis for migratory passerines, the main prey of the falcon during the breeding season, was created and maintained. This oasis was established in one of the birds key colony sites in Greece and in the Mediterranean. The vegetation (e.g. fruit trees) planted in the oasis was determined by a systematic assessment of the requirements of migratory passerines on the island.
An update of baseline information for Eleonoras falcon (population size and breeding performance), at 8 project sites in the Aegean Sea, followed-up the first national census conducted during the previous LIFE project Conservation measures for Falco eleonorae* in Greece (2003-2007).
The project team conducted identification and quality assessment of Eleonoras falcon foraging grounds during the breeding, wintering and pre-breeding period in Greece and in southeast Africa, which involved a series of advanced methods and state-of-the-art technologies, including satellite telemetry, visual observations, insect surveys, radar surveys, on-site wintering habitat assessment on Madagascar, and toxicological analysis for testing the presence of heavy metals and investigating the species exposure to pesticides.
The project team produced a Good Practice Guide, providing updated information on the conservation status of Eleonoras falcon, and proposed related management guidelines, based on the results of the projects interventions and scientific studies. They also produced an Environmental Education Kit, which was presented/implemented in 20 primary and secondary schools in the project areas, reaching 1 539 students.
In terms of policy, the project is directly relevant to the EU Birds Directive and the Natura 2000 network in Greece, as well as the International Species Action Plan for Eleonoras falcon, and European priorities on biodiversity conservation with respect to climate change. The improvements in the conservation status of the habitats, and Eleonoras falcon and seabird populations, increased the overall ecological value of the areas. This may lead to new local business opportunities, for example eco-tourism and bird-watching, to boost the local economies. Project actions, especially rat eradication, are beneficial to local people who use the islets for recreational purposes. The project raised environmental awareness, in particular the Environmental Education Kit is expected to have a great impact on future generations.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).