|Seychelles Kestrel © Jeff Watson|
The Seychelles Kestrel or Katiti is special not only because it is the smallest kestrel in the world and is found nowhere else, but also because it is such a special part of Seychelles wildlife. It is the only bird of prey here, and there is no other bird here quite like it.
Two years ago, a survey of this species was led by Nature Seychelles and the Aigas Foundation. The Seychelles Kestrel is known to have a population of around 400 pairs, mainly on Mahe, with birds also present on Praslin and Silhouette. To test the genetic diversity of the birds, our research team has been catching kestrels to take blood samples. DNA samples can also be taken from feathers and other tissue.
Before coming to Seychelles on this project, I worked for six years on the recovery of the Mauritius kestrel. The Mauritius kestrel was saved from the brink of extinction by conservation action. There was just a single known breeding pair in 1974, and it was nearly lost as a species. From this low point, the population has now been restored to around 800-1,000 birds today – a tremendous success story for conservation.
Studies of the DNA of the Mauritius kestrel show it to have very little genetic diversity, as the population descended from just that single pair. When we compare the Seychelles kestrel DNA we find that there is a similar severe lack of genetic diversity within the population – but this does not seem to have been a problem for the species.
The recovery of the Seychelles Katiti offers hope to all sorts of other endangered bird species in Seychelles. Ideally, we would like more DNA samples from Katitis to confirm the genetic ‘health’ of the population across Mahe, Praslin and Silhouette.
We have asked people to provide Katiti feathers for the project. These are often found below nest or roost sites, and it is not uncommon for Katitis to roost in the roofs of houses. The Katiti usually breeds in September and October but we need the feathers as soon as possible, and information about exactly where they were found.
In the past there have been superstitions attached to the Katiti, which may have been a problem for the birds in some places. Nature Seychelles can provide advice and nest boxes to encourage the birds to nest in places that are safe from rats, cats and other introduced predators.
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