The “Eleonora’s Falcons”

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The walls falling sheer into the Capo Monte Santu sea are also of particular importance for “birdwatching” enthusiasts, especially since they are home to the largest colony of Italian “Eleonora’s Falcons”, a species of falcon that is typical of Mediterranean cliffs. Other, less numerous, colonies are located in south-western Sardinia, near the cliffs of the islands of Sant'Antioco and San Pietro. The “Eleonora’s Falcon”, scientific name “Falco Eleonorae”, was so named in honour of Eleanora d’Arborea (a judge in the Judicatus of Arborea, one of the four Judicati into which Sardinia was divided between the tenth and fourteenth centuries). The reason is that in 1392, Queen Eleanor inserted a regulaton in the “Carta de Logu” (a collection of laws that applied to the subject of Arborea) prohibiting the unauthorised capture of all birds of prey. Although it was actually a law designed specifically for the benefit of nobles, who were allowed to capture any bird of prey, the directive is symbolically regarded as the first legal provision enacted to protect birds of prey. The fact that in the Middle Ages falcons were considered a “valuable commodity” by nobles is also proved by fourteenth-century documents that, with precise reference to the birds of prey of Monte Santu, attest that the inhabitants of Baunei were required to capture and hand over the falcons from the cliffs to the Pisan camerlenghi who inhabited Cagliari Castle.

It was an Italian scholar called Giuseppe Genè, the director of the Natural History Museum in Turin, who suggested the name “Falco Eleonorae” in 1839, after analysing specimens of the bird of prey that the Piedmontese general Alberto La Marmora had sent him from Sardinia. The “Eleonora’s Falcon”, which winters in African savannas and Madagascar, stays on the cliffs of Capo Monte Santu throughout the summer, until October. It nests on the cliffs walls, strategically located along the migratory routes. Eleonora’s Falcons often hunt in groups, positioning themselves in formation a short distance from each other, so as not to allow birds returning from exhausting migrations any escape. The nest is usually located in a cavity in the rock or a small ledge, where the raptor lays 2 or 3 eggs, which are incubated almost exclusively by the female for about thirty days. The young are fed by the female, while the task of procuring the food is left to the male. The young falcons leave the nest after three weeks, at the beginning of October.