The Saker Falcon


The Saker Falcon

The Saker Falcon
The Saker falcon is a large powerful falcon, slightly bigger in size in comparison with the Peregrine falcon. The body length is between 47-55 cm, the wingspan is 105-129 cm; the tail length is 16-26 cm; weight 730-1150g. Sexes have similar plumage but females are ca. 15% larger and 40% heavier than males.
The plumage is brown above and streaked below with a paler head and whitish supercilia (eyebrow). It has a relatively small head on broad-chested, though long and otherwise slender body with long wings and long tail. In flight the silhouette is similar to the Peregrine but is with rather broad wings with blunt tips.
Biology and Distribution
The species is adapted to relatively arid, open landscapes, wooded steppe and foothills in the Palearctic region (from Eastern Europe to Western China), where it hunts ground-living mammals supplemented with birds and other prey. The Saker Falcon is physically adapted to hunting close to the ground in open terrain, combining rapid acceleration with high manoeuvrability. Thus, it prefers small and mid-sized diurnal terrestrial rodents and lagomorphs as prey, predominantly susliks.
It breeds in Eurasia across continental middle latitudes, spanning over 7,000 km from Austria in west to China in east and 3,000 km north from the Russian Federation to Iran in south; mainly in wooded steppe, steppe, sub-desert and foothills, often bordering or overlapping forests. Like other falcons the Saker is not building its own nest but it is using already build nests of other birds like Ravens, Crows, Buzzards etc. Traditionally it prefers nests on trees or on rocks, however more recently it is shifting towards electricity power pylons. The Saker falcons usually starts breeding in its third year. Its clutch usually contains 3–5 eggs, exceptionally 6. The species starts incubating in March–mid-April. The incubation period is 30–32 days. The juveniles leave the nest 45–50 days after their hatching and spend the next 4–6 weeks in their parents’ territory before disperse.  Adult birds are sedentary (e.g. in Turkey), partial migrants (e.g. in Central Europe) or fully migratory (e.g. in parts of the Russian Federation), largely depending on the extent to which their food supply in breeding areas disappears in winter. It is a regular winter visitor to the central Mediterranean. The Saker Falcon regularly winters in North-east Bulgaria as well. It is also an irregular visitor to Malta. Small numbers cross the Bosporus in autumn and spring. European juveniles have been recorded as far east as Pakistan and Northwest India. Vagrants are occasionally recorded in Western and Northern Europe from Spain to Sweden and Estonia.
The Saker falcon is a globally threatened species. It is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red list due to a negative population trend in most of its range and rapid decline. The rate of decline is particularly sever in the specie’s Central Asian breeding grounds which also hold the largest populations. The Saker falcon is also listed in ANNEX 1 of the EU’s Bird Directive. The species is listed as Critically Endangered in the Bulgarian and Romanian Red Books. This unfavorable conservation status is a result of a range of anthropogenic factors causing increased mortality such as electrocution on power lines, illegal trade for falconry, as well as habitat degradation and intensification of the agriculture.
The Saker falcon ones was a common species in Bulgaria but in the middle of the XXth century it experiences a severe decline due to land management changes, plowing of pastures, increasing pesticide use and mass shooting of raptors. This plummetted the population of the species in the country. Conservation efforts for the species started in Bulgaria in 1980’s when it became clear that nest robbing is among the main threats for the species. Various conservation actions were applied at different scales. BSPB was involved in the implementation of two LIFE projects which aimed to address various threats for the species. In 2015 Green Balkans started captive breeding and reintroduction program for the species. As a result of these efforts in 2018 the first pair was confirmed to breed in the country after decades of absence.  

As а globally endangered species Sakar falcon is subject to almost all treats typical for raptor species including poaching, poisoning, nest robbing, electrocution, disturbance, and degradation of habitats.

Poaching is a major threat for many raptor species including the Saker falcon. The drivers of this illegal activities are different - direct persecution by pigeon fanciers in sensitive areas due to raptor attacks at their racing pigeons, poaching by hunters who believe that birds of prey are limiting the populations of game species, illegal killing for fun especially along eastern Mediterranean flyway, poaching for taxidermy etc. 

Poisoning is another threat of major concern, which causes increased mortality of falcons of all ages. Saker falcons mostly suffer from poison baits set by pigeon fanciers targeting specifically birds of prey such as falcons, hawks and eagles which attack their racing pigeons. 


Electrocution is a major threat not only for raptors but also for many other bird species. Falcons frequently use electric pylons for perching or nesting and when they touch the conducted are killed by electrical shock. In Bulgaria and Romania thousands of power poles were already insulated as a result of successful collaboration between the NGOs and the electric companies. However, there are still many more hazardous power lines which should be retrofitted to prevent bird mortalities. 

Nest robbing  
In the 80-es, 90-es and the beginning of 00`s the nest robbing was supposedly one of the major threats for the Saker falcon which caused its rapid decline in Bulgaria. In the recent years the problem is not as severe, however cases of nest robbing of other raptors species such as Imperial Eagles, Egyptian Vultures, Peregrine Falcons etc. were recorded. The eggs and the chicks of the raptors are used for illegal trade and private collections.

Degradation of Habitat  
Habitat degradation is a complex issue which affects falcon’s population directly by destruction of rock formations, cutting old trees and woods, plowing pastures and turning them into agricultural land or indirectly by limiting the food availability through the extensive use of pesticides which extirpates the European ground squirrel, Romanian hamster and many small to mid-sized birds which are the main prey of the falcons.

Human disturbance  

Human disturbance near the nest may cause breeding failure. If the adults leave their eggs or chicks unattended due to disturbance they may die or be eaten by other animals such as martens, ravens and crows. The disturbance near the breeding sites is an increasing issue due to the lack of awareness amongst the public, lack of information, marked hiking trails or signboards and control from the state authorities in the protected areas. Other practices which could cause disturbance are the various extreme sports which are practices in the falcons breeding habitat e.g. paragliding, rock climbing, caving, mountain off road driving and other activities. 
The Saker Falcon