(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) The Office for Conservation of the Environment (OCE) at the Diwan of Royal Court, in collaboration with Austria-based International Avian Research, is preparing to conduct the world's largest study on sooty falcons (falco concolor) in Oman.The research team includes Dr Mike McGrady and Omani researchers Dr Mansoor al Jahdhami and Waheed al Fazari. Dr McGrady is one of the world's foremost authorities on the small raptor and has been studying the sultanate's sooty falcons for a long time.OCE sponsored the first research on sooty falcons in 1978. Since 2007, OCE has supported international researchers to conduct field surveys near the islands of the Sea of Oman and now plans to attach solar powered satellite tracking devices on ten sooty falcons in the next two years.According to Dr McGrady, some of the world's most important breeding places are the Damaniyat islands and Fahal Island. ''The bird hasn't been thoroughly studied. In the nineties, a fellow researcher came up with an estimate of the worldwide population of sooty falcons. Based on that estimate, the ones found in just three of the many locations in Oman - Sawadi Island, the Damaniyat islands and Fahal island - add up to roughly ten per cent of the worlds' population.''He said so far only four birds, two each from Oman and Abu Dhabi, have been tracked using satellite radio technology. ''We're now making preparations to carry out the world's largest ever study, which would give us the opportunity to track ten young birds from Oman all the way to Madagascar, their wintering ground. ''The solar-powered tracking devices we'll use weigh only nine grams, and will enable us to track birds for four years if they survive.''Dr McGrady's interest in the sooty falcon stems from the fact that it hasn't been widely studied to date, its unusual breeding habits, and its effective hunting techniques. ''Most birds breed in spring, but the sooty falcon breeds in summer and lays eggs in July. The eggs take 21 days to hatch, and after an additional 30 days or so, the birds are able to fly.''There is a significant number of sooty falcons in Oman towards the end of September as they prey on migrating birds that come from colder parts of Asia. Songbirds such as hoopoes and sparrows, which tire after long flights, are hunted by them and fed to their young. They hunt over open seas so their prey has nowhere to hide. It's like a drive-through in reverse “ instead of you driving to get the food, the food comes to you.''Dr McGrady is also educating young Omanis on sooty falcons. ''It's good to see the younger generation's interest in sooty falcons. I don't think anyone has handled as many falcons as Waheed who is integral to the work we do. Ultimately, the hope is the information we collect will help conserve the falcons.''