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Description

Saker Falcon is one of the group of the hierofalcons – average smaller than the Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus but larger than Peregrine Falco peregrinus. The plumage is essentially dark brown above, normally lacking blue or grey tones. Tail shows pale spots rather than bars. The adults are noticeably pale-headed, with indistinct facial pattern. Juveniles (and some adults) have dark bar across underwings, contrasting with pale undersurface of flight-feathers. Sexes are similar without essential variation.
Saker Falcons at any distance sometimes difficult to tell from Gyrfalcon and Lanner, and distinctive looser build and flight action learned only from experience. Gyrfalcon larger, with whole body broad and heavy (not just chest as in Saker), and broader wings and tail; lacks striking underwing pattern of most Saker. Lanner shares pale crown and similar flight silhouette but is less bulky, with narrower wings (adult also lacking dark bar across larger under wing-coverts) and darker face. In close view, lack of flank and thigh barring in Saker helpful, but some adult Lanner also unmarked. Differentiation of some immature birds not easy; close attention to head pattern and amount of wing and tail barring or spotting then essential. Importantly, Saker always shows much paler, apparently translucent bases to undersurfaces of flight-feathers. Flight fast and powerful but hunts at rather low level, like Gyrfalcon, flying down or stooping at bird prey. Action appears lazy, but when hunting, quickens although still less emphatic than Peregrine. Can hover (Cramp et al., 1980).

 
Adult Saker Falcon female © N. Nedyalkov
 
 
 

Ecology

Saker Falcon is physically adapted to hunt close to the ground in open terrain, combining rapid acceleration with high maneuverability, thus specializing on mid-sized diurnal terrestrial rodents (especially ground squirrels Spermophilus sp.) of grassy landscapes (BirdLife International, 2009). The Saker is essentially a species of open landscapes such as steppe, open plains or montane plateaus. In the continental middle latitudes of the Western Palearctic they breed mainly in agricultural and steppe landscapes, with varying amounts of woodland, and in mountain foothills, often bordering or overlapping into forests. In common with other Falcon species, Sakers do not build their own nests; they typically occupy old nests or else usurp nests of other large species such as Raven Corvus corax, Common Buzzard Buteo buteo, Long-legged buzzard Buteo rufinus etc. This feature of its biology means that the Saker is sensitive to nest site availability, which can be a limiting factor in some regions. Nest sites are normally located in tall trees, cliffs or on human artifacts such as electricity pylons. The breeding season starts in March with egg laying. Young Saker Falcons leave the nest in end of May – June.

 
 
 
European Souslik © M. Vasilev
 
European Souslik © M. Vasilev
 
 
 

Breeding distribution

Saker Falcons occur in a wide range across the Palearctic region from eastern/central Europe to east Asia. Its current westernmost breeding range includes parts of Austria, Bulgaria*, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine.

*Last successful breeding in Bulgaria was recorded in 1997.

Breeding distribution
of the Saker Falcon
in Europe >>>
   
 
 

Population status in Europe
Recent Saker Falcon population estimates and population trends in Europe

Country Population
Estimate
Date of
Estimate
Source of
Information
15 year Trend
(Dixon, 2007; MEFRG, 2009)
Austria 20-25 2004 Mebs & Schmidt, 2006 Slight increase
Bulgaria 0-3 2009 Ragyov et al., 2009 Declining/Extinct
Croatia 3-5 2009 D. Glica Unknown
Czech Republic 15-16 2008 D. Horal Stable
Georgia 3-5 2000-2003 Nagy & Demeter, 2006 Unknown
Hungary 214-230 2009 MME per I. Balazs Increasing
Kazakhstan* Unknown NA Wassink & Oreel, 2007 Unknown
Moldova 10-12 2005-2006 V. Vetrov, Y. Milobog Unknown
Poland 0-2 1998 Augst, 1998 Unknown
Romania 2-12 2006 Z. Domahidi Stable
Russia* 40-45 2007 Karyakin, 2008 Declining
Serbia 55-60 2008 M. Tucakov Increasing
Slovakia 31-32 2008 L. Deutschova per I. Balasz Increasing
Turkey** 50 2007 Dixon et al., 2009 Unknown
Ukraine 270-345 2005-2007 V. Vetrov, Y. Milobog Increasing
Western Palearctic 713-842      
*European part; **Asian part
 
 
 

Conservation status

Saker Falcon is enlisted as “Endangered” (EN) in the IUCN Red List (IUCN, 2009) and it is therefore considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

Saker Falcon is listed on Appendix II of CITES, thus the trade with the species is controlled “in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival”.

Saker Falcon is listed on Appendix I of the Bonn Convention. Therefore Range States should endeavour: a) to conserve and, where feasible and appropriate, restore those habitats of the species which are of importance in removing the species from danger of extinction; b) to prevent, remove, compensate for or minimize, as appropriate, the adverse effects of activities or obstacles that seriously impede or prevent the migration of the species; and c) to the extent feasible and appropriate, to prevent, reduce or control factors that are endangering or are likely to further endanger the species, including strictly controlling the introduction of, or controlling or eliminating, already introduced exotic species.

As the Saker Falcon is listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive too, it should be a subject of special conservation measures concerning their habitat in order to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution in the European Union. Member States should classify in particular the most suitable territories in number and size as special protection areas for the conservation of these species.

 
 
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