A rare small falcon species, known as lesser kestrel, have recently surprised the residents of a suburban neighborhood in southern Israel, having adopted the area as their temporary home.
The Ramot neighborhood in the city of Be'er Sheva has welcomed the new tenants, which relocate there for the nesting season.
The lesser kestrel is no longer in danger of extinction after the species experienced a global recovery saving them from being near extinction.
Meidad Goren, director of the Ramat Ha'Negev birding center and a senior birdwatcher at the Israeli birding center of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), says that several years ago, while he was monitoring small falcons on a road near Be'er Sheva, he received a report of the species seen on a balcony in the Ramot neighborhood.
"I went to check, and to my surprise I discovered a large population of small falcons," he said.
Regional birdwatchers estimate that there are about 15 pairs of red-necked falcons in the neighborhood.
The SPNI initiated an educational project for the neighborhood's elementary schools, through which they built nesting homes for the birds and hand them out to residents who wanted to offer the falcons comfortable accommodation.
Rachel and Shlomo Shachar, Ramot residents, are current hosts to one of these nesting homes with three eggs that have yet to hatch.
"In the first year there was no nesting because the location wasn't fitting. In the second year, with the change of location, eggs were laid, but because of the heat they didn't hatch. In the third year, five eggs were laid and two chicks were hatched. Only one survived. This year, for now, three eggs have been laid," Shlomo says.
Up until less than a decade ago, the species was considered endangered, largely due to habitat destruction, harm to the open areas in which the falcons hunt, displacement from the nesting areas, and excessive use of agricultural pesticides. Additionally, demolition of buildings also led to a decrease in potential nesting sites.
Now, the species has recovered and is no longer considered endangered. Still, Gorren emphasizes, the population is relatively small compared to its numbers in the beginning of the 20th century.
Current data estimates that there are about 1,000 small falcons in Israel today. Aside from this falcon species, the common kestrel falcon is the only other bird of prey that nests in an urban environment.
"The small falcon is one of the most beautiful and photogenic birds of prey in Israel, and it visits only during the nesting season - beginning in mid-February and lasting until the end of June", Goren says.
"It spends the winter months in eastern and southern Africa. The nesting colony is always near open hunting grounds - in agriculture flat areas, where the falcon finds its food: insects and arthropods," he said.
A male small falcon can be identified by its reddish brown back, bright tail with a black line across it, a grey-blue head, and a pinkish chest lightly spotted with black dots. The female is similar to the male, but can be differentiated by the dots on her back and belly, striped tail, and brown head with light cheeks.