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Urban life bites for kestrels lured in by glamorous city dwellings

Urban life bites for kestrels lured in by glamorous city dwellings
27 May 2014

The attraction of the city is leading kestrels into an “ecological trap”. They are tempted into Vienna by desirable nesting spaces in old building facades, but struggle to find enough food to support their families. Research monitoring more than 400 nests in Vienna shows that the kestrels closest to the city centre have fewer offspring and they are less likely to survive, due to the lack of prey during daylight hours.

The study, published in the open access journal Frontiers in Zoology, describes the first published breeding information from the Vienna Kestrel Project – an initiative to find and track kestrel nests in Vienna. Citizen scientists were involved in finding the nests and contributing observations on mating and breeding kestrels.

In the countryside, kestrels like to nest in cavities in rocks and trees, where there are plenty of small rodents around in the daytime that they can hunt. But the birds are attracted to Vienna’s glamorous nesting sites - the roof-openings and niche structures in facades of old buildings. Scientists monitoring these nests found that birds living in these sites get a nasty surprise: they have less breeding success in the city than they would in their normal countryside nesting sites.

Author Petra Sumasgutner, University of Vienna, said: “When I started the "Vienna kestrel project" in 2010 I wanted to unravel the success strategies of the city-dwelling raptor species. I recorded the highest population density of kestrels in a European city to date and wanted to find an explanation for that high breeding success.

“What I found was pretty much the opposite of what I expected. There is not enough prey available to successfully raise all young, leading to significantly lower breeding success in the city centre.”

The scientists monitored some of the kestrel nests by installing sensors, but also relied on citizen scientists who reported on nests near their houses and kept an eye on what the kestrels were up to. Firemen and chimneysweeps were also involved, reporting nests, and helping the scientists get access to rooftops and the facades of high buildings.

Sumasgutner said: “The study could not have been done without the overwhelming public support. We found more than 400 nests, which would not have been possible without the detailed reports of so many observers. We wanted to publish this paper in an open access journal to make it accessible to a broad scientific audience, but also to the general public."


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Notes to Editor

1. Hard times in the city – attractive nest sites but insufficient food supply lead to low reproduction rates in a bird of prey
Petra Sumasgutner, Erwin Nemeth, Graham Tebb, Harald W Krenn and Anita Gamauf
Frontiers in Zoology 2014, 11:48

Article available at journal website here.

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2. Frontiers in Zoology is an open access, peer-reviewed online journal publishing high quality research articles and reviews on all aspects of animal life.

3. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

4. Information about the Vienna Kestrel Project is available at the website ( and Facebook page (