As part of the “People and Birds of the Southern Levant” project, a study was carried out on illegal trapping of large falcons in eastern Jordan. The results were published in Sandgrouse (Khoury et al 2020). The report provides a much needed counterpoint to recent media outputs that glorify modern falconry in the region as a practice steeped in ancient desert tradition and a ‘heritage sport’.
In reality, modern falconry has evolved into a widespread sport in the Gulf region, stimulating the captive breeding and release programs of species targeted by falconers, such as Macqueen’s Bustard, establishing reserves for falconers, and other novel activities like falcon “beauty contests” and races.
The higher demand for wild falcons has elevated black market prices and thus trapping pressure on large falcons like the Saker and Lanner that are globally or regionally threatened. Illegal falcon trapping in eastern Jordan started in the 1950s and accelerated in the 1980s to meet rising demand for wild falcons due to the rise of modern falconry practices fuelled by growing wealth in the Gulf region.
Trafficking is apparently well organized in the Middle East region, with the help of social media outlets, and much of the falcon smuggling remains undetected at border crossings.
A long-eared owl chick rescued by Al-Weibdah inhabitants and Jordan BirdWatch
Jordan BirdWatch is frequently contacted during the breeding season of birds, to collect and deal with chicks, often fully grown but still not able to fly properly. In one case, a Jackdaw chick was being kept on the roof of a house by people who took the chick from children playing near their home. The chick probably fell from its nest while attempting its first flight. JBW advised to immediately return the chick to the nesting site and place it on a higher place, safe from ground-dwelling predators.
In another case the chick of a Long-eared Owl was found grounded in a garden in Al-Weibdah in Amman, probably after attempting to leave the nest. The habitants contacted JBW and kept it in a safe place for a day or two. JBW personnel then placed the seemingly healthy bird on the branch of a tall tree. It was evident that the nest was located nearby and the parents were present and still feeding the chick after it left the nest. The young owl was spotted in the days following its rescue, perching on the branches of the trees in the same garden.
“Unfortunately, most “grounded” Owls, Birds of Prey and other birds are mistakenly deemed orphaned – they’re actually just in the process of testing their wings. Many young birds disperse from their nests long before they can fly – this prevents overcrowding in the nest as the chicks grow. This is nature’s way of helping to minimise any threat to the entire clutch from predators. Many young birds lose their footing during these first explorations and fall to the ground”. A grounded chick may look lost and vulnerable, but the parents are likely to know where it is and will continue to feed it. Owl chicks can climb up bushes and trees to stay safe https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=81.
The risks and advices
What JBW observed and the measures to take in a rescue situation
Healthy owl chicks that would still have a chance to survive in the wild are often taken to local conservation or animal welfare societies or facilities in Jordan with the good intension of “saving its life”. In some cases people take things into their own hand and attempt to feed and care for the bird themselves, then give up after the bird becomes a “nuisance”, or so weakened it would be difficult to save. It is usually impossible for non-specialists to determine the age and physical condition of a chick, and thus its chances to survive in the wild; in many cases the chicks are deemed “orphaned” or even injured because they still are not able to fly well. That is why we advise calling JBW to get appropriate advice and assistance and before taking the birds into what often turns out to be a life-long captivity. Evidently, some of the birds brought to these facilities are kept in captivity indefinitely and are sometimes used as additional attraction for visitors.
Some of the owl species are still threatened or rare in Jordan (see our Bird list), due to habitat destruction, disturbances at nesting sites, persecution and deliberate collection of owls from the wild and offering them for sale on social media platforms. Eleven species of owls have been recorded in Jordan including nine that breed in the country, one of which became extinct a few decades ago. Although considered by some Jordanians as “bad luck”, these magnificent birds provide humans with a lot of “services” when in the wild and thus deserve more appreciation and protection in Jordan.