Raptor Watch 2020: conservation not just for the birds
What comes to mind when you see the word “raptor”? For some of us, it would be the dinosaurs called velociraptors, or the Ford Raptor high performance 4WD, or perhaps even the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jets. But since the 19th century, the word “raptor” is used to refer to birds of prey. Raptor Watch—organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) together with the State Governments of Malacca and Negeri Sembilan, as well as Tourism Malaysia—aims to raise awareness on raptor conservation and habitats in Malaysia.
What are raptors?
Raptors are birds of prey, but not all carnivorous or omnivorous birds are in this category. The word “raptor” comes from the Latin rapere which means “to seize” in reference to how birds of prey have sharp talons for grasping their prey or for tearing off meat from carrion. Raptors also typically have sharp hooked beaks suited for tearing into flesh. All raptors are carnivores, but their food ranges from insects to the carcasses of large animals, and sometimes even other birds. There are nine types of raptors: buteos (also known as buzzards in Africa, Asia and Europe, but known as hawks in North America), accipiters (or true hawks), falcons, eagles, ospreys, harriers, kites, owls, and vultures.
The Malaysian Nature Society
The Malaysian Nature Society was established in 1940 with the publication of Volume 1 of the Malayan Nature Journal. They pioneered conservation in Malaysia from then onwards, and since 1999, they have been holding an annual Raptor Watch at Tanjung Tuan, Malacca. While it is held annually on the first weekend of March to coincide with the spring raptor migration which begins mid February and ends mid April, for this year it will be held on 14 and 15 March instead.
Raptor Watch is organised to inform the public about our fine feathered friends. They will tell you that the best time to watch for the raptors is between 11am and 3pm, though they have observed birds flying as late as 6pm. The reason for this particular timing is because the raptors rely on the hot air columns, called thermals, which are produced by the land due to the heat from the sun, and these thermals help the raptors to glide along, minimising the need for the birds to flap their wings to fly, which requires energy.
There are various activities lined up for Raptor Watch, and not just during the two days of the event! On 15 and 16 February, there will be a raptor training programme, followed by raptor counting for the entire month of March by the Bird Conservation Council (BCC) which is a body that is part of MNS. There will also be an Important Bird Area (IBA) seminar to be held from 12–14 March. On 14 and 15 March, the compound area of the Cape Rachado Lighthouse will be open to the public from 9am to 5pm for everyone to observe the raptors flying in from Sumatra. Other public events include photo competitions, forest walks, marine walks, exhibition booths for merchandise and various activities, and stargazing & firefly walk (this requires registration with the Raptor Watch Secretariat). School events will also take place during the two days: nature crafts, nature bingo, an educational exhibition at the KPA booth titled “Watch Out for the Raptors”, an hourly nature walk, beach cleanup & recycling awareness, and a colouring competition. Kids can even win some cool prizes by taking part in some of these activities.
Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve, Malacca
Apart from the opportunity for the public to observe the raptors, Raptor Watch is also organised for the conservation of Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve—a.k.a. Cape Rachado Permanent Reserved Forest—by promoting Raptor Watch as a national eco-tourism event. Tanjung Tuan has been listed as an important raptor site by BirdLife International, the National Geographic Society and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. The conservation of Tanjung Tuan is important to provide raptors with a place to take shelter and recuperate as a stopover during their migration from north to south. Tanjung Tuan is currently the only remaining patch of coastal forest on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and has been gazetted as a Forest Reserve, Wildlife Reserve, Fishing Prohibited area and historical site.
For more information on Raptor Watch 2020, you can visit the website here. Let us know in the comments which is your favourite raptor, and why!
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