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    BULGARIA --- Historical status --- Current status --- Negative factors --- Who --- What have we done --- Running projects --- Papers  

Historical status

Prior to the 1930’s the Saker Falcon was a common breeding species in Bulgaria. It was widely distributed in Bulgaria, especially in the open downs and brush covered hilly areas of Dobrudzha, along Danube river, valley of Sofia and also in Eastern Balkan Mountains and valley of Struma river (Elwes, Buckley, 1870; Sintenis, 1877; Floericke, 1918; Patev, 1950). There are only few observations from the period 1920’s – 1950’s (Arabadzhiev, 1976; Jordans, 1940 in Prostov, 1964). Later on the species became extremely rare in Bulgaria (Arabdzhiev, 1962 - based on 3 decades ornithological research). In the later part of the 20th century the breeding population was believed to be less than 50 pairs (Michev, 1985; Michev & Petrov, 1985; Simeonov et al., 1990; Stoyanov & Kouzmanov, 1998). Further decline was mentioned in the late 1990’s and the population crashed to 2-6 estimated breeding pairs (BirdLife International, 2004).

Saker Falcons in Western Balkan Mountains in 1980’s © T. Michev
Saker Falcons in Western Balkan Mountains in 1980’s © T. Michev

Current status

The current situation is characterized with continuing decline of the population that started in the late 1990’s. Population estimates after 2000 vary between 2 and 15 breeding pairs. Despite the large-scale national surveys during the period 2006 - 2009 no confirmed breeding was recorded. The last successful breeding attempt was recorded in 1997 and the last active nest in 1998 – the pair laid eggs but failed to raise chicks (D. Domuschiev in litt.). The species is extremely rare in Bulgaria nowadays if not extinct, with national assessment 0-3 pairs.


Negative factors

before 1980’s

Direct extermination by means of shooting and nest destroying. There were government sponsored programmes to eradicate birds of prey from the environment (Arabadzhiev, 1962; Spiridonov, 1977). Persecution continued well into the middle of the century with official data from the National Hunting Society showing that 70,000 raptors were killed in 1957 alone (Arabadzhiev, 1962).

Habitat loss followed by decline of prey species. Massive changes in agricultural practices dramatically altered the Bulgarian landscape in the middle of 20th century. Habitat loss occurred through abandonment of lowland grazing or conversion to arable crops, which in turn contributed to the decline of important prey species for Sakers such as the European Souslik Spermophilus citellus and various grassland birds. In addition, drainage of native wetlands contributed to decline of waterbirds – another Saker Falcon food resource.

Organochlorine pesticides. The impact of organochlorine pesticides on Saker Falcons is not well documented, but population declines were noted for Peregrines in eastern Europe from the mid 1950’s through to the 1970’s. In Bulgaria, the Peregrine population only started showing signs of recovery from the mid 1980’s (Stoynov et al., 2007; Ragyov et al., 2009). DDT was used in the 1950’s but its use declined in the following decade with the introduction of Aldrin, Dieldrin and Heptaclor. These chemicals were imported and used in Bulgaria from the early 1960’s. Most of these chemicals, which were implicated in the population crash of the Peregrine, were used in large quantities until they were eventually banned in 1969, but the Heptaclor was used up to 1991 (MoEW, 2006). It is likely that organochlorine pesticides had some detrimental impact on Saker Falcon populations in Bulgaria, and may have significantly contributed to their disappearance in lowland agricultural regions.

after 1990’s

Nest robbing and trapping. These illegal activities were first documented in 1980’s with ten groups of falcon poachers operating on the Balkan Peninsula (Scheglman, 1983 cited in Michev & Petrov, 1985). In the 1990’s major politic and social changes took place in Bulgaria which lead to a period of economic instability combined with lax enforcement of conservation legislation. This situation enabled criminal gangs, intent on taking wild falcons for commercial gain, to act with relative impunity. By the 1990’s the number and/or activities of such gangs increased, as did the frequency of reported nest robberies and trapping. This increase in the illegal, commercial exploitation of wild Saker Falcons coincided with the beginning of the final crash of their population in Bulgaria (Ragyov & Shishkova, 2006; Iankov, 2007).

The socio-economic changes of the 1990’s saw yet more areas of pasture abandoned (followed by overgrowing with bushes and forest) or turned-over to cultivation and development for construction. These changes continue into the 21st century with impacts on favoured prey species such as the European Souslik. Over the period 2004-2008 Koshev (2008) investigated 90 European Souslik colonies in three regions of Bulgaria; approximately 30% of the colonies had disappeared, 28% were vulnerable to extinction and only 42% were stable compared with the period 1950-1989.
The use of chemicals in agriculture lands might be the main limiting factors nowadays in large areas in the lowland of Bulgaria i.e. Dobrudzha plateau, Ludogorie plateau and Danube Plain.


Young Saker Falcon taken from its nest
by poachers in 1997. After a police action
the bird was returned to its nest.
Later on the bird and its sibling
successfully dispersed from the
breeding territory. © D. Domuschiev


Use of pesticides in north Bulgaria may act
as limiting factor for Saker Falcons.
© D. Ragyov

Pasture abandonment caused overgrowing with bushes
and trees in some places e.g. Sakar Mountains.
© D. Ragyov


SESN’s work in Bulgaria is implemented by Central Laboratory of General Ecology, Green Balkans Federation NGOs and Central Balkan National Park Directorate with cooperation of Birds of Prey Protection Society, Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna, Institute of Zoology and National Museum of Natural History.


What have we done:

Survey: Large scale survey across Bulgaria on former breeding places and suitable habitats was implemented from 2006 to 2009. More then 10% of the country territory were investigated. Over 500 raptor territories were revealed including. Long-legged Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Raven, Peregrine, Egyptian Vulture etc. The study was concentrated in areas where suitable cliffs and electricity pylons provide nesting sites. Green Balkans Federation implemented annual expeditions last 10 year along Danube River forests and islands. In result no breeding Saker Falcons were found, although several single bird records were reported during the period.


Survey work 2006-2009
© V. Shishkova and D. Ragyov


Survey work 2006-2009 © V. Shishkova and D. Ragyov

Survey work 2006-2009
© V. Shishkova and D. Ragyov

Survey work 2006-2009 © V. Shishkova and D. Ragyov

Survey work 2006-2009 © V. Shishkova and D. Ragyov
Survey work 2006-2009 © V. Shishkova and D. Ragyov
Survey work 2006-2009 © V. Shishkova and D. Ragyov

Workshops: Organizing raptor specialist meetings is one of our important activities. Besides the International Saker Falcon Workshop in 2006 when SESN was established we held three National Saker Falcon Workshops in Bulgaria.
The aim of the first meeting was: i) to present the current Saker Falcon research activities; ii) to discus and coordinate the protection activities in the future; iii) to create partnerships in Bulgaria for better conservation of the species.
Main task of the second meeting was to discus the Saker Falcon population status and prepare a draft of the National Saker Falcon Action Plan.
The third workshop was hosted by Central Balkan National Park Directorate and its main subject was the Saker Falcon Reintroduction Programme in Bulgaria, together with partnership creating in terms of the reintroduction programme.

© D. Ragyov
© D. Ragyov
© D. Ragyov
© D. Ragyov

Conservation efforts: An awareness campaign was conducted during 2006-2009 in Bulgaria. Press release materials with information about species status, threats and required conservation measures were distributed among the relevant regional institutions and nature-conservation organizations. Lobbing and informing the conservation authorities was implemented as well.



Awareness materials    

Feasibility study regarding a Saker Falcon reintroduction programme in Bulgaria was performed and published on-line. Multidisciplinary and international team participated in study preparation (Central Laboratory of General Ecology , Green Balkans Fedeartion, International Wildlife Consultants (UK) Ltd., Institute of Zoology – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, National Museum of Natural History – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. The feasibility study is based on IUCN criteria for reintroductions and includes the following issues:

- Historical Saker Falcon population status;
- Reasons for decline and extinction;
- Possibilities for natural recolonisation;
- Biology, ecology and habitat requirements of Saker Falcons;
- Release areas assessment (15 regions were investigated);
- Best practices and methods in raptor reintroductions;
- Taxonomic history of the Saker Falcon;
- Modeling of the effects of harvesting potential donor populations;
- Modeling of hypothetical new established population in Bulgaria;
- Criteria to judge success.

The Central Laboratory of General Ecology (CLGE) established a good cooperation with the National Electricity Company (NEC) in regards of Artificial Nest Program in Bulgaria. CLGE was the bridge between NEC and the conservation community. At the moment Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds implements a large scale artificial nest programme to support the Saker Falcon nesting opportunities.


Artificial nest programme © D. Ragyov

Artificial nest programme © D. Ragyov

Running projects

National Saker Falcon Action Plan. Currently Central Laboratory of General Ecology, Birds of Prey Protection Society and Bulgarian Society of the Protection of Birds work on preparation of the main document concerning Saker Falcon conservation in Bulgaria – the species action plan.

Preliminary activities regarding the reintroduction project. Central Balkan Mountains area was assessed as the best place for initial releases of Saker Falcons. In that regard the SESN conservation activities in 2010 are focused in Central Balkan Mountains and involve:

  1. Assessment of local people opinion toward Saker Falcon and other birds of prey; target groups are hunters, pigeon breeders, forestry officers and rangers, teachers, majors, young people (executors: Central Laboratory of General Ecology and Central Balkan National Park Directorate;
  2. Assessment of the risk of mortality caused by electrocution – mapping of risky pylons and poles from the middle and low voltage power line and assessment the effect on the power lines on local raptors (Central Laboratory of General Ecology and Sofia University, Biology Department);
  3. Souslik study and management – activities toward protection and management of a model Souslik colony threatened from extinction (Green Balkans Federation and Central Balkan National Park Directorate);
  4. Raptor monitoring in Central Balkan area as an indicator of general conditions of the area for Saker Falcons. (Central Balkan National Park Directorate and Central Laboratory of General Ecology)


SAKER FALCON Falco cherrug REINTRODUCTION IN BULGARIA - FEASIBILITY STUDY (Dimitar Ragyov, Elena Kmetova, Andrew Dixon, Kamila Franz, Yordan Koshev and Nedko Nedialkov – Sofia, 2009).

Ragyov, D., Demerdjiev, D. and Angelov, I. (2009) Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) in Bulgaria – general review. In: Peregrine Falcon populations: status and Perspectives in the 21st Century. Eds. J. Sielicki & T. Mizera. Turul Publishing & Poznan University of Life Sciences Press, Warsaw-Poznan.

Ragyov, D. and Dixon. A. (2008) Reintroduction of the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria. Falco. 32: 21-22.

Ragyov, D. and Dixon, A. (2008) The Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) in Bulgaria: a case for reintroduction? (poster presentation). Symposium “Avian Reintroduction Biology: current issues for science and management”, 08-09 May 2008, London, United Kingdom.

Ragyov, D. and Shishkova, V. (2006) Saker Falcon in Bulgaria: past, present and future. Falco, 27, 4–8.

SESN is coordinated by:
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research, Sofia 1113, Yurii Gagarin str. 2
www.ecolab.bas.bg; gsm +359 898 58 55 53; Fax +359 2 870 54 98; e-mail: dimitar.ragyov@gmail.com