Lanner falcon release: new hacking box at Lake Vico

Replenishing the lanner falcon population in Lazio

One of the main objectives of the LIFE Lanner project, supported by the Italian Ministry of the Environment, is to replenish the lanner falcon population of Lazio, and hopefully of central Italy. As stated in our mission, we plan to do so by releasing captive-bred lanners over the next four summers. This will be performed with the help of a hacking box, that will gradually make the birds independent hunters. The released falcons’ movements will be monitored by GPS transmitters, which will make known the whereabouts of the birds in near real-time. Firstly, this will allow us to keep an eye on them in the immediate aftermath of the release, the most sensitive moment for them. As a result, if something goes wrong with a bird, we will be immediately alerted and able to rescue it. Secondly, the GPSs will give us valuable movement ecology data, which is lacking for the species in this part of its range.

Hacking our way to successful falcon release

At this point you might be asking yourself: what exactly is a hacking box? And does it have anything to do with computers? To answer this second point, not really – although our hacking boxes are indeed equipped with online cameras and camera traps to constantly check on the falcons and their surroundings.

Hacking is a technique used to train young falcons to reach their independence as hunters. The hacking process involves a specially designed nest box, which is placed atop a high structure, or in any other location where the species would naturally nest. The box is spacious and comfortable and will be regularly provided with food, so that young lanners can make it their home for a few weeks. At first, it will be kept shut, protecting them from potential predators while making them get used to the visible surroundings. After a while, it will be opened, so that the birds can start with some test flights. The lanners will therefore gain the experience necessary to hunt independently, while being able to fall back on the food supply in the hacking box. At the end of the process, the released birds will be able to leave the structure indefinitely, hopefully coming back to nest in it when time comes.

Hacking means cutting, severing. It’s possible, in fact, that the origin of this technical term refers to the chopped up meat placed in the hacking box for falcons to eat.

The new hacking box at Lake Vico Natural Reserve

At the beginning of April we finished building the new hacking box at the wildlife rescue centre of Lake Vico Natural Reserve. This new structure will take the place of the one used last year, placed on top of a fire tower, which didn’t provide the results we expected. The wooden structure can be easily accessed to bring food, while keeping human contact to a minimum thanks to the single open side. Hopefully this will help us to successfully release this delicate species back to the wild.