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Study: Drought harms kite species

Red Kite
Red Kite. Photo by Fabrizio Sergio

A new study of a European raptor species suggests that climate change may have a significant impact on birds that are thought to be stable currently.

The Red Kite is a bird of prey the breeds in many European countries; its population is estimated at 60,000-70,000. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies it as “least concern” on the Red List of Threatened Species.

A long-term study of a Red Kite population, however, shows that when young kites are born during a drought, they remain disadvantaged throughout life. Since Red Kites can live up to 30 years, the findings suggest that extreme climate events can have a long-lasting impact on their populations, which are declining in some regions.

Fabrizio Sergio of the Doñana Biological Station and colleagues investigated the effects of drought on kites at Doñana National Park in southern Spain. The authors found that drought reduced both prey availability and the amount of food provided to chicks by parents, leading to leaner chicks and fewer chicks reaching adulthood in drought years.

They also indicate that experiencing drought as chicks did not provide an advantage in surviving subsequent droughts. Even if chicks survived the drought, the authors suggest their survival chances in later years was lower than that of kites born in years with typical precipitation. They included the long-term effects of drought in population projection models and found that they led to a 40 percent decline in forecasted population size and a 21 percent shortening of the time to extinction.

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In their report, published in Nature Communications, Sergio and co-authors conclude that increasingly frequent extreme climate events may be having greater consequences and eroding populations more quickly than is currently recognized.

A version of this article will be published in the November/December 2022 issue of BirdWatching.

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