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At first they were only visitors, small flying migrants, but recently the lesser kestrels (falco naumanni) have become a integral part of the life of the Danin family of Moshav Elyakim. "Housing for homeless kestrels" is what the father, Shlomi, calls the nesting box that has been built in their yard. After school and work, Shlomi and his children - Aviv, 13, Adi, 12, Daniel, 7, and Yigal, 5 - are busy studying, following and observing the rare small falcon.

One day last week, as Danin stood in the living room of his home talking to us, he did not take his eyes off the nearby hill, following his sub-tenants' hunting route. "They have a daily schedule and the couple work in harmony and as a team. The male looks after the female. We have a lot to learn from them."

As recognition of their activity on behalf of the lesser kestrel population, the Danin family has recently been awarded the title of "Friends of the Lesser Kestrel" by Menachem Hadar of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The distinguished title was awarded to them under a project being conducted in the Megiddo area by SPNI and the Israel Electric Corporation. Another "Friend of the Lesser Kestrel" is Arad Shoham of Kibbutz Dalia, who thus far has cared for some 400 abandoned chicks who fell from their nests.

The lesser kestrel is the smallest bird of prey in Israel and weighs only 160 grams. It can be identified by its unique colors: Its head and neck are a bluish gray, its feet and eyelids are yellow and the rest of its body is chestnut brown. However, its beauty does not help it in the struggle for survival: The lesser kestrel population is in a constant downward trend. It is estimated that over the years the number of pairs has dwindled to only about 600.

As part of the project to save the birds, fifth-graders in the Alona and Megiddo regions have "adopted" the lesser kestrel. They learn about it at school, build nesting boxes, keep a close eye on the nesting birds in their locales, conduct censuses and act to raise awareness of the bird among the human inhabitants of the area.

Last week, as the first lesser kestrels arrived from Africa for the nesting season, SPNI conducted a lesser kestrel census together with the children and their parents. The census indicates that the beautiful bird of prey is in danger of worldwide extinction. Thus, for example, in Megiddo this year only about 200 kestrel pairs were counted, as compared to 300 last year.

One of the main reasons for the dwindling lesser kestrel population in Israel is damage to its nesting sites. Often the birds choose to nest in the roofs of homes. Renovations and the replacement of old roofs reduce the possibilities for nesting, and damage to open areas also harms the kestrels, which lose hunting grounds.

"The decline in the number of lesser kestrels is painful for us - it's a special bird," says Danin. "The children and I have decided to set up natural nesting boxes in the open areas, built of stone with niches inside. I want the lesser kestrels to know that there's a warm corner here for them."