Queen of the raptors

The Eleonora’s falcon.

The Eleonora’s falcon.

Of all the birds of prey that migrate over the Maltese Islands, only one deserves to be called the queen of raptors – the Eleonora’s falcon.

Eleonora’s falcon is an unusual bird in more ways than one

This magnificent bird migrates over the islands in both spring and autumn.

Known in Maltese as bies tar-reġina, the falcon is named after Eleonora of Arborea, a Sardinian judge who had a keen interest in birds. She was born in 1347 and after becoming a judge, she passed legislation to protect the falcon which later was named after her.

The Eleonora’s falcon is an unusual bird in more ways than one.

It breeds in colonies, mostly on small or uninhabited islands in the Mediterranean. Two-thirds of the world population, which does not number more than 12,000 pairs, live in Greek territory. Most of the rest are found on islands off the coasts of Spain, Italy, Croatia, Corsica, Morocco and Algeria.

Throughout most of the year, the falcon’s food consists of large insects such as dragonflies, but in late summer and autumn, it switches to migrating small birds which it hunts as they approach the ground on which it breeds.

The Eleonora’s falcon starts breeding very late in the season so that the hatching of the eggs coincides with the start of the autumn migration.

This ensures that the young birds are most hungry during the peak migration, thus ensuring a plentiful supply of food.

Eleonora’s falcons also have an interesting migration.

Most of the world’s population winters in Madagascar. Until recently, it was believed that the migratory route was totally coastal, with birds flying south along the Suez Canal. Birds that breed in the western parts of the Mediterranean were thought to reach the Suez by flying along the North African coast.

Recent studies involving the use of satellites to track birds showed that they actually cross through the Sahara Desert and equatorial rainforests until they reach Kenya and Mozambique, covering a distance of about 9,000km.

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