One of the highlights of summer on the Singita Kruger National Park concession is the vast array of migratory birds that occur during the season and, now as autumn approaches, all of these species are busy filling up their stomachs in preparation for the long journey back to their breeding grounds, either into Africa or longer journeys to Europe or even to Asia. All of these long arduous trips that these birds undertake are incredible but one bird in particular that fascinates me more than most is the Amur falcon (Falco amurensis).
These are tough little birds that fly from the other side of the world and only weigh about the same as your average iPhone. The entire population migrates from the grasslands in Amurland in Russia, Mongolia and parts of North Korea in late September. They fly past the Himalayas, through India and Sri Lanka and then over the Arabian Sea, down the eastern side of Africa to finally end in the grasslands and savannahs of southern Africa, before returning in a similar fashion around May. Once this marathon migration is completed they would have flown a total of 22 000 km!
What I find truly astounding is that these relatively small birds undertake the longest
overwater migration of any bird of prey as they cross over the Indian Ocean between Somalia and western India. It is a journey of more than 4 000 km and this also includes flying at night. They have been recorded flying non-stop for 72 hours during the crossing, the average modern airliner can only fly for around 21 hours!
Here on the concession they can be seen in flocks of 20-30 birds, roosting in the many dead leadwood (Combretum imberbe)trees that are scattered across the grasslands. They generally feed on flying insects, which are caught in flight but have been seen swooping down on prey such as grasshoppers which have been abundant this year. This feeding behaviour can be quite fun to witness as this spectacular aerial hunter often causes one to gasp when seeing it wheeling and hovering in the sky as it hunts.
While watching these little avian globetrotters, I can’t help but hope that when they return later in the year the world has returned to what it once was.