Saker Falcon, Falco cherrug

Saker Falcon

Recently fledged young Saker Falcon, Austria. © Richard Zink

Names

English: Saker Falcon
Scientific: Falco cherrug
German: Sakerfalke, Würgfalke
Spanish: Halcón Sacre
French: Faucon sacre

Taxonomy and Subspecies

Size

Length: Males 47-55 cm
Wingspan: 110-126 cm
Weight: Males 700-900 g, Females 970-1,300 g.

Maximum Age

23 years in captivity. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

Lives in open habitat like steppes or in open areas in mountains. In some countries also in agricultural areas (for example in Austria, Hungary). Enough prey in form of medium-sized mammals (like susliks) or birds are important.

Distribution

From eastern Europe (eastern Austria, Czeck Republik, Hungary, Turkey, etc) eastwards over the Asian steppes to Mongolia and China.

Migration

Birds breeding in the northern part of the species range are often migratory. Birds in southern parts often resident all year round or partial migrants. Can survive during snow and cold temperates when there is enough prey, e.g. in eastern Austria. Adult territorial birds are less likely to migrate when there is enough food. Some birds from central and eastern Europe fly to southern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, North and East Africa [Save the Saker 2013].

Breeding and Reproduction

Like all falcons, Saker Falcons don't build nests. They use nests from other large birds like ravens, buzzards or eagles. Those nests are either in trees or cliffs. Recently, the Saker Falcon has used artificial nests very successfully. Those nests are normally place on trees or pylons. In Hungary, about 85% of the 183-200 known pairs in 2006 breed in artificial nests, approximately half of them on trees, the others on pylons [Bagyura et al. 2009].

Breeding normally starts with two years [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Egg-laying in south-east Europa normally starts at the beginning of the second half of March. 4 eggs are the most common clutch size, but sometimes 3 or 5 eggs are laid. Most of the time, the female is breeding and the male hunts food. Incubation time is about 36-38 days and the young falcons need about 48-50 days to fledge [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Food and hunting

Mostly hunts medium sized mammals and birds. Important mammals are hamsters and susliks. Among birds, pigeons are often the most important prey [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Sometimes other prey like reptiles, amphibians and even insects is taken.
Kills mammals and birds on the ground or birds when taking off.

Population

European population (incl. Turkey) only between 354 and 527 pairs [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
The largest population lives in Hungary with about 183-200 pairs in 2006 [Bagyura et al. 2009]. In Hungary the population in hills and mountains is gone because after forestation the population of prey like the European Suslik disappeared. But the Saker recolonised the lowlands in Hungary after persecution stopped at the beginning of the 1990s. The populations has increased since then due to conservation programs. The population there has increased during the last years due to conservation efforts.
In 2012 the Hungarian population was 241 known nests, 164 pairs breeding, 131 pairs successful and 418 juveniles fledged. [SakerLife2 2013].
In Austria the species was almost extinct in the seventies but thanks the conservation efforts it has increased. In 2012 26 monitored pairs produced a record high of 37 fledged young [Birdlife AT 2012].
Other countries with important populations are Slovakia (30-40), Serbia (40-60), Ukraine (45-80), Turkey (50-70) and the European part of Russia (30-60) [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. The population in the Czech Republic
Other countries with small populations are Poland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Rumania. Has also bred in Germany in recent years. A future expansion to the north and west seems possible given the recent increase in eastern Europe.

Threats

One of the most endangered falcons of the world. Main threat is the (at least in Europe illegal) collecting of eggs and young during the breeding season. Those birds are often used in falconry or sold to rich people in Arabian countries.
Electrocution is also a problem and causes many deaths [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Habitat destruction which leads to a decline of available prey species (hamsters, susliks, birds) and the availability of suitable nests can also be a problem.

Conservation

Illegal collection of eggs and birds must be stopped. Nests can be guarded (when enough volunteers are available). Trade around the world should be illegal. Collectors of eggs and young birds should be punished.
Habitat must be protected. Measures to increase prey species can be helpful and would also help other birds like the Eastern Imperial Eagle.
Artifical nests can have a very positive effect on reproduction. They increase the availability of nests and are often more stable than natural nests built by other birds like crows or raptors.
If artifical nests are put on large power pylons guarding of the nest site may not be necessary as they are almost inaccessible to predators like martens or humans who want to steal the egg or young. This helps to increase the breeding success. Artificial nests are used in several countries including Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Endangered (EN)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Endangered

Interviews about the Saker Falcon

Interview with Dimitar Ragyov about the reintroduction of Saker Falcons into Bulgaria

Interview with Gunther Willinger about the work done by EuroNatur to protect the Saker Falcon and the Eastern Imperial Eagle in Bulgaria

Interview with Mátyás Prommer about the conservation of the Saker Falcon in Hungary and neighbouring countries

References

[Bagyura et al. 2009]. János Bagyura, Tamás Szitta, László Haraszthy, József Fidlóczky and Mátyás Prommer: Results of the Saker conservation programme in Hungary, 1980-2006. Published in [Sielicke & Mizera 2009 ].

[Birdlife AT 2012] Rekordjahr für den Sakerfalken: 37 Jungvögel in Österreich. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.at/coro-skat/presse/rekordjahr-fuer-den-sakerfalken.html on 20. Jan. 2013.

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

[SakerLife2 2013]. Conservation of Falco Cherrug in NE Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia website. Downloaded from Breeding results of Saker Falcons in Hungary in 2012 on 20 Jan. 2013.

[Save the Saker 2013]. Middle East Falcon Research Group Website. Downloaded from http://www.savethesaker.org/migration.asp on 20 Jan. 2013.

[Sielicke & Mizera 2009 ] Sielicke, Janusz & Mizera, Tadeusz (eds.) (2009). Peregrine Falcon Populations - Status and Perspectivees in the 21st century. Turul. (contains 4 papers in Saker Falcons)

Books

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser

Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Sielicke, Janusz & Mizera, Tadeusz (eds.) (2009). Peregrine Falcon Populations - Status and Perspectivees in the 21st century. Turul. (contains 4 papers in Saker Falcons)

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Saker Falcon

GRIN species account for the Saker Falcon

Middle East Falcon Research Group

Saker Falcon conservation by Green Balkans

Conservation of Saker Falcons in the Carpathian Basin

Conservation of Imperial Eagle and Saker Falcon in Bulgaria

Southeast European Saker falcon Network

Conservation of Falco Cherrug in NE Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia