Species, Saker Falcon

DISTRIBUTION

The Saker falcon is a species of the open fields. It is typical of steppes from Eastern Europe as far as Central Mongolia. Its typical habitat in Europe is forest steppes in lowlands and pre-montane areas, and, in some cases, open mountain ridges and plateaus. In some areas in Asia, the species nests at altitudes of up to 4,000 m. More or less, its range overlaps with the range of souslik or related species. In Europe, the juveniles usually roam far, mainly to the south, where most young birds spend the winter.

During the recent decades, the global Saker falcon population has been decreasing at a threatening pace. Some slight increase of the population is noted only in the Carpathian basin, and this is the result of serious species conservation efforts stared in the 1980s. At present, there are around 280 Saker falcon pairs in the European Community, and approximately 230 of these reside within the geographic bounds of Hungary and Slovakia.

The Saker falcon is included in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive, Annex II of the Bern Convention, Annex II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), and is defined as "Endangered" in the IUCN Red Data Book.

HISTORY

The Saker falcon was well known in the past in the Bulgarian lands, most often named ‘balaban’, ‘kragui’, and ‘chakar’.

Being an extremely rare bird, the Saker falcon is protected in Bulgaria by the Biological Diversity Act. It was included in the first and in the latest edition of Bulgaria's Red Data Book, currently being prepared for printing. Following the evaluation of the worldwide status of the species made in 2004 by the reputable international organisation BirdLife International, the Saker falcon has been included also in the International Red Data Book among the most endangered fauna on the planet.

There had been 40-60 Saker falcon pairs in 1980 in Bulgaria, followed by a sharp drop in their numbers. The main reason for this is believed to be the organised illegal plundering of nests and taking of the juvenile birds for sale to falconers in Arab countries or in Western Europe. Other threats for the species are the destruction of its natural habitats, the reduction of the species which it feeds upon (souslik, in particular), electrocution when landing on electric pylons, poisoning by pesticides and artificial fertilizers, and disturbance of the birds during brooding.

Anyway, no Saker falcon nests in Bulgaria have been recorded as certainly inhabited by 2005. Studies following 2006 show that the species still occurs regularly in Bulgaria both during the nesting period and during migration and wintering. The observed mating flights, pair hunting, carrying of food and observed young Saker falcons are an assurance that there are occupied nests, although finding such nests is extremely difficult.

It is particularly reassuring that young Saker falcons hatched in Hungary (and, perhaps, in the Ukraine) visit Bulgaria during their post-nesting roaming. In 2008, our country had been visited by a Hungarian Saker falcon fitted with a satellite transmitter and by three more such birds in 2009. For this reason the BSPB has decided on the strategy of supporting the natural distribution of the Carpathian population by reducing the threatening factors, provision of nesting boxes (with the support of the National Electricity Company electrical power system operator) and improvement of the trophic base.

Experience has shown that there are good grounds for this. The same strategy, used by the BSPB, has saved another species of the Bulgarian fauna - the Griffon vulture, nearly extinct in the early 1980s. Systematic and comprehensive nature conservation actions have allowed the 1-4 Griffon vulture pairs nesting in the Eastern Rhodopes to increase to more than 50, according to the most recent count in the Nature Conservation Centre of the BSPB in the village of Madjarovo.