The Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) is a species of day-flying bird of prey. It has a body size of 45-57 cm and a wingspan of up to 126 cm. The wings are long and broad in a dark brown. They are spotted and banded on the top side like the top side of the tail. The underpart is off-white with brown spots and bands. The off-white head of the bird is characteristic.
Habitat and Ecology
The Saker Falcon is found in grassland, heathland and shrub and unvegetated or sparsely vegetated land ecosystems. It is physically adapted to hunting close to the ground in open terrain and is specialising on mid-sized diurnal terrestrial rodents of open grassy landscapes. In some areas, particularly near water, it switches to birds as key prey, and has recently substituted domestic pigeons for rodents in parts of Europe. It uses copses or cliffs for nest sites occupying the old nests of other birds. Birds are sedentary, part-migratory or fully migratory, largely depending on the extent to which the food supply in breeding areas disappears in winter (Baumgart 1991, Snow & Perrins 1998). Migrating central European adults travel as far as the Mediterranean.
Population and Distribution
According to the Article 12 report Falco cherrug has a breeding population size of 270-350 pairs and a breeding range size of 73,700 square kilometres in the EU27.
This species occurs in a wide range across the Palearctic region from eastern Europe to western China, breeding in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine, Iraq, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China, with wintering or passage populations (inside the EU27) regularly in Italy, Malta and Cyprus.
The breeding population trend in the EU27 is Increasing in the short term and Increasing in the long term. The EU population status of Falco cherrug was assessed as Threatened, as the species meets one or more of the IUCN Red List criteria for threatened at the EU27 scale. According to the IUCN red List it is Endangered at global level, Vulnerable at European level as the population may be undergoing a very rapid decline which appears to be particularly severe in the specie’s central Asian breeding grounds.
In Europe, this species has suffered mainly from the loss and degradation of steppes and dry grasslands through agricultural intensification, plantation establishment and declines in sheep pastoralism, causing a decline in key prey species; offtake for falconry is a serious problem, which has caused local extinctions (Baumgart 1991, 1994, K. Ruskov in litt. 2007). In eastern Hungary, landscape reversion following the abandonment of agriculture could have a negative influence, as most prey species require short swards that are maintained by agricultural practices (S. Nagy in litt. 2007). Elsewhere, declines are mainly attributable to offtake for falconry, although persecution, pesticide use (notably in Mongolia in 2003) and agrochemical deployment play a lesser part (Baumgart 1991, Riddle and Remple 1994, Barton 2000, Eastham et al. 2000, Fox 2002, Haines 2002, ERWDA 2003). The number trapped annually for Middle East falconers has been estimated at 4,000 in Saudi Arabia, 1,000 in Qatar and 500-1,000 in each of Bahrain, Kuwait and U.A.E., which, allowing for a 5% mortality prior to receipt, indicates an annual consumption of 6,825-8,400 birds (Fox 2002, ERWDA 2003). Of these, the great majority (77%) were believed to be juvenile females, followed by 19% adult females, 3% juvenile males and 1% adult males, potentially creating a major bias in the wild population (Fox 2002, ERWDA 2003). Another study, however, gives a far lower estimate for numbers legally trapped in Saudi Arabia, at an average of 22 birds per year in the period 2002-2009 (M. Shobrak in litt. 2015). Hybridisation with escaped or released hybrid falcons could influence the genetic integrity of wild populations (S. Nagy in litt. 2007, Nittinger et al. 2007). On the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in China, policies to control rodents and herding practices, along with the development of hydroelectric dams and human settlements with electricity power infrastructure, have the potential to impact the population (A. Dixon in litt. 2012).
Barton N.W.H. (2000).Trapping estimates for sakers and peregrine falcons used for falconry in the United Arab Emirates. Journal of Raptor Research 34: 53-55
Baumgart, W. (1991). Der Sakerfalke.
Baumgart, W. (1994). Saker Falco cherrug. In: Tucker, G.M.; Heath, M.F. (ed.), Birds in Europe: their conservation status, pp. 198-199. BirdLife International (Conservation Series 3), Cambridge, UK.
Dixon, A. (2012). Conservation of the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) and the use of hybrids for falconry. Aquila 119: 9-19.
Eastham, C., Quinn J., Fox, N. (2000). Saker Falco cherrug and Peregrine Falco peregrinus Falcons in Asia: Determining migration routes and trapping pressure. Raptors at Risk, WWGBP / Hancock House
ERWDA. (2003). The status of the Saker Falcon (Falcon cherrug) and assessment of trade. Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Fox, N. (2002). The conservation of the Saker Falcon (Falcon cherrug) and the role of CITES in UAE 2002. Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Haines, G. (2002). An assessment of the impact of trade on the Saker Falcon.
Nagy S., Demeter I. (2012). Saker Falcon: European Single Species Action Plan
Nittinger, F.; Gamauf, A.; Pinsker, W.; Wink, M.; Haring, E. (2007). Phylogeography and population structure of the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) and the influence of hybridization: mitochondrial and microsatellite data. Molecular Ecology 16: 1497-1517.
Riddle, K. E.; Remple, J. D. (1994). Use of the Saker and other large falcons in Middle East falconry. In: Meyburg, B.U.; Chancellor, R.D. (ed.), Raptor conservation today, pp. 415-420. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, U.K.
Ruskov K., Iankov P (2007). Study and conservation of the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) in Bulgaria, Technical Report
Shobrak M. Y. (2015): Trapping of Saker Falcon Falco cherrug and Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus in Saudi Arabia: implications for biodiversity . Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences 22: 491-502.
Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.