A comprehensive two year study from 2009 to 2011 on the status and distribution of raptors in the bio-diverse Wayanad district conducted at the instance of the Forest Department reports observing thirty species of raptors and seven species of owls in the district.

Raptors are birds of prey like kites, eagles, buzzards, falcons, harriers and vultures. The study conducted by the Deepakumar Narayana Kurup, retired Deputy Director (Wildlife Education) of the Forest Department was published by the department on Thursday. According to Dr. Kurup Kerala is a habitat to 55 birds of prey species including owls.

The study observed that seven species of raptors were breeding in Wayanad. Among them is the critically endangered species of white-rumped vulture which was found to be regularly breeding at three specific sites in the Wayanad Wlidlife Sanctuary. The critically endangered red headed vulture was also regularly observed in the district.

He recommends immediate steps for the careful conservation of the raptor species not only in the existing habitats of Wayanad but also in their erstwhile habitats like Periyar and Parambikulam. With the growth of agriculture, consumption of pesticides has reached alarming proportions and this is proving to be fatal to the raptor population.

The study notes that during instances of mortality of large herbivores like elephants and gaur inside forest areas, as soon as detected the carcasses are subjected to post mortem examination and immediately buried or set on fire. “This exercise clearly denies the availability of food for scavenging species like the vulture and jackal”. Dr. Kurup suggests that confirmed natural deaths should be provided to scavenging species after formalities.

In fact the study is the first to ever record the breeding of the Bonelli’s eagle and of the spot bellied eagle owl in Kerala. Evidence on the breeding of the endangered Shaheen falcon was observed at Brahmagiri in the district. The study says that there appears to be an inter-State migration of raptors towards Tamil Nadu and Karnataka during the monsoon.

The gregarious white-rumped vultures were seen to prefer the drier areas towards the east while the relatively solitary red-headed vultures preferred the denser canopied forests towards the west in the district. The different raptors were seen to prey on a variety of prey from inspects to large mammals like the langur.

In fact the white-rumped vulture and the red-headed vultures were seen preying on young gaurs, sambar and spotted deer. Domestic chicken, flying lizards, frogs, spotted dove, snakes, giant squirrel and blue rock pigeon were among the other prey species for the raptors in the study area.

The study observed that the population of the honey buzzard peaks from March to May coinciding with the availability of honey in the forest areas. The Pallid Harrier, a near threatened species was found to be a regular winter visitor. The greater grey headed fish eagle, also a near threatened species, was observed twice in 209 and once in 2010.

The study noted an increase in the Bonelli’s eagle population in May and June coinciding with the breeding activity at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. On the other hand the vulture population increased during the months of April to June coinciding with the increased animal mortality in the area.

Crested serpent eagle, black eagle and honey buzzard were ubiquitously distributed in all habitat types. But the black kite, a common species of the plains was observed only once in the study area. Most of the migrant species come by November and leave by March. The majority of the resident raptors were seen breeding from March to May.