Preparatory research actions

A1. The aim of this action is to gather good knowledge on Saker falcon’s distribution and nest location in Bulgaria and Romania. This is needed in order to implement conservation actions aimed at bird species with such small population like the Saker falcon. All known pairs of the species will be monitored. Additionally, there are large areas that are suitable for the Saker falcon but are not well surveyed and have to be thoroughly investigated in order to identify additional breeding pairs that probably exists and which will also benefit from the conservation actions. The existing nests have to be investigated during the first and second year of the project in order to obtain information regarding productivity of each pair, their main prey, or any potential threats that can arise. In order to fill these gaps in the knowledge for the species, high voltage power lines and other suitable nesting sites will be investigated annually during the first and second project year in order to locate new breeding pairs both in Romania and Bulgaria.

A2. The conflict between pigeon fanciers and raptors has been wildly documented worldwide, but its magnitude has never been investigated in Bulgaria. Pigeon racings in the country are quite popular, including competitions with homing pigeons and high-flyers. By this action we aim to evaluate the magnitude of the losses due to birds of prey by direct involvement of the pigeon fanciers, and to test different measures to mitigate the problem.

A3. The impact of the illegal killing on the populations of raptors (including the Saker Falcon) is assumed to be significant, however so far there is no quantitative data on this subject in Bulgaria. To understand on how efficiently to mitigate the problem with illegal killing of Sakers and other birds of prey in the project areas we first need to quantify the problem and understand its roots. For this purpose, we will compare the status of the populations of indicator birds of prey using the older and modern datasets; interviews with local authorities, hunting associations and pigeon clubs.

A4. Pesticides are used for crop treatments, control of rodents and insects. Falcons eat small mammals and birds, which consume vegetation and insects, which facilitates the accumulation of damaging substances in the falcons, and birds of prey in general. The accumulation of pesticides can affect negatively the physiological and reproductive functions in the animals. The impact of these pesticides on birds of prey and their prey, like the Romanian Hamster and the European Souslik, in Bulgaria and Romania has never been sampled and assessed. The aim of this action is to reveal the effect of the pesticides on the populations of the Saker falcon, other raptors and their prey (mammals and birds).

A5. Rural communities are found within or near the majority of the project sites. In order to understand their awareness about Saker falcon and small mammals a two-stage process will be use both a qualitative exploratory approach with in-depth interviews and focus groups with farmers, hunters, pigeon keepers, local authorities, veterinarians, regional law enforcement agencies, local businesses will be employed. One of the reasons for choosing qualitative techniques is the need to explore stakeholder’s perceptions in depth, to acquire the richest data, with details and new insights, as well as to allow the interviewer to explain or help clarify questions, thus increasing the likelihood of useful responses, as well as of raising level of acceptance of our work.

A6. Terrestrial rodents and lagomorphs are the main prey of Saker falcon in most of its range. Hamsters are among the preferable prey species in Eastern Europe. In some countries (Hungary) it seems that the Common hamster (Cricetus cricetus) tend to replace the European Souslik (Spermophilus citellus) as food of steppe raptors such as the Imperial eagle and the Saker falcon since it is not so much depending on grazed low-grass habitats and their populations are less depleted. The Romanian hamster (Mesocricetus newtoni) is a characteristic rodent species for the project area. It is endemic for Bulgaria and Romania occurring mainly in Lower Danube plain and Dobrugea. The Romanian hamster is of high global priority having restricted range and is listed as “Near threatened” in IUCN Red List. This action will ensure all the preparation needed for pilot captive breeding and pilot restocking/reintroduction of the Romanian hamster (Mesocricetus newtoni) as a prey for the Saker falcon.

A7. All recent studies of the European Souslik (Spermophilus citellus) in Bulgaria show that its population has drastically declined. The species was up listed from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered” in the IUCN Red list in 2020. In Bulgaria, the most endangered are the Souslik’s colonies that are outside of the Natura 2000 network. The project team will conduct a study and make an analysis of the threats, identifying the most endangered Souslik’s colonies. The analyses will be based on GIS model that include data on Souslik‘s distribution and habitat modelling, land use types, investment proposals and spatial master plans. Field visits will be carried out as well based on the model and on additional information. The goal is to evaluate threat status and to plan rescue translocation where feasible and needed.

A8. BSPB shall develop a land-purchase strategy for Natura 2000 areas of the highest importance for conservation of the Saker Falcon’s foraging habitats. The strategy will include a map of the Natura 2000 areas in which the project will operate. Layers of land-use information (pastures, meadows, vineyards etc.) will be added to this map, as will be the type of ownership, distribution of individual Saker Falcon nesting and foraging areas and the temporarily settlement areas (based on known nests and on satellite telemetry). BSPB will collect the most up-to-date information about land property boundaries, land use, habitat types, infrastructure, settlements and all other spatial data that might be of any importance for the decision making in land purchase. This information will be analysed from the perspective of areas of priority for the Saker Falcon with its foraging habitats, and from the perspective of their status.