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05 October 2023

Abu Dhabi launches major falcon breed project

Some twigs were collected, secured with wire and placed in the bottom of the platform to make it more enticing for the birds. (SUPPLIED)

By Nadim Kawach

Abu Dhabi has launched a major programme to breed rare types of falcon as part of the emirate’s ongoing efforts to protect endangered species and rebuild its wildlife that has been damaged by massive development plans.

The government-controlled Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil operations (ADCO), one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon producing firms, is undertaking the programme around major oilfields in the heart of its desert.

The project involves the breeding of Osprey, a type of large falcon that feeds mostly on fish by making spectacular swoops into the water from a great height.

ADCO said the project is located at coastal operational areas of North east Bab (NEB) and Jebel Dhanna, some 100 km southwest of Abu Dhabi city.

The project runs parallel to ADCO’s massive investment plans intended to expand the production capacity of its oilfields, mainly the 1,200-square-km Bab field, one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon reservoirs.

“ADCO has contrasted several artificial breeding platforms and is in the process of erecting them at both NEB and Jebel Dhanna…platforms such as this have been used with great successes in both Europe and North America,” said Stephen James, ADCO’s senior environment protection adviser.

“It is hoped that Ospreys here will also find them ideal for nesting…this will ensure the safety of the young birds and will hopefully, slowly increase the population of these magnificent birds.”

Writing in ADCO’s Waha monthly bulletin, James said the breeding platforms were made from wood which had previously been used by ADCO, adding that the wood was specifically treated to protect it from the weather.

He said a hole was excavated at the location and a wooden box inserted while the pole was erected and then the box was covered with cement to ensure a firm foundation and one which will last for many years.

“Some twigs were collected, secured with wire and placed in the bottom of the platform to make it more enticing for the birds,” he said.

“It will take about a year for the birds to get used to this structure…the normal course of events is that they start perching on the platform and sometimes roosting on it overnight…then they start bringing their fish to the platform to eat..

“Once this happens, it is highly likely the birds will select the platform as their chosen breeding location…hopefully, ADCO will see more of these magnificent birds flying over our coastal operational areas in the near future.”

James noted that NEB and Jebel Dhanna are among the best locations in the UAE for seeing Ospreys, adding that these birds are protected in those areas.

“However, the lack of large trees along the coast means that birds are forced to breed on the ground or on small rocky outcrops,” he said.

“This leaves both the eggs and young birds very vulnerable to predators like the Red Fox and feral cats, which are common in these areas…the new breeding project will solve this problem and ensure protection of those birds.”

According to James, the Osprey breeds across the northern hemisphere and their populations in those areas are migratory. In Arabia, however, the birds are resident throughout the year and they inhabit coastal areas with shallow, clear seas, bays and mangrove areas, he said.

He said they are also found in good numbers on offshore islands but added that coastal and island areas have come under threat from all forms of development recently, in a reference to massive housing and industrial projects in the emirate.

“The preferred habitat of the Osprey is declining…Ospreys are large birds, which inhabit large territories…they feed on fish, which they catch by diving spectacularly into the seas from a great height……sometimes, they will swoop low over the surface of the sea, hoping to hook on an unsuspecting fish swimming near the surface,” James said.

“The emirate of Abu Dhabi holds at least 65 pairs, including one pair which returns to breed every year on the jetty at Ruwais….it is a symbol of ADNOC’s commitment to conservation, that amid a busy port area, a large bird of prey, such as this, can continue to breed unmolested.”