Saker falcon (Falco cherrug)

Also known as: saker
  
French: Faucon sacre
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyFalconidae
GenusFalco (1)
SizeMale length: 45 cm(2)
Female length: 55 cm (2)
Male wingspan: 100 - 110 cm (2)
Female wingspan: 120 - 130 cm (2)
Male weight: 730 - 990 g (2)
Female weight: 970 - 1,300 g (2)

The saker falcon is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

A great favourite with falconers, the saker falcon (Falco cherrug) is a large, powerful bird of prey with an exceptionally broad wingspan for its size (4). Like other falcons, this bird is equipped with sharp, curved talons for grasping prey, while the strong, hooked beak is used to tear its victim’s flesh (2). Great variation in colour and pattern exist, ranging from a fairly uniform chocolate brown colour to a pale sandy colour with brown bars or streaks, to almost pure white individuals, which are particularly prized by Arab falconers (2) (5). Female saker falcons are markedly larger than males (2).

The saker falcon is a wide-ranging species with a breeding distribution across the Palaearctic region from Eastern Europe to western China (6). After the breeding season, many populations migrate further south and spend winter in China (7), India, the Mediterranean, Middle East, and parts of Africa (2) (6).

The saker falcon prefers open terrain for hunting, such as forest steppe, desert steppe and arid montane areas (6). Nesting usually occurs in old abandoned nests of other birds situated on the ground, on cliffs, rocks, sandy precipices or trees, as well as on artificial structures such as poles, pylons and abandoned buildings (6) (7).

As the breeding season commences in spring, males begin to perform spectacular aerial displays as a form of courtship ritual to attract females, calling loudly as they soar over their territories. Saker falcons are generally two to three years old before they begin to breed, after which one brood of two to six eggs will be produced annually by the female. Chicks are able to fly after 45 to 50 days, but remain dependant on their parents for food for at least another 30 to 45 days, during which time they stay within the nesting territory (2) (7).

The saker falcon can be both highly agile and extremely fast as it hunts close to the ground (6), capable of diving for prey at 200 miles per hour (4). Prey consists largely of mid-sized mammals such as ground squirrels, voles, gerbils, jerboas, stoats and hares (2) (4) (7). At other times, and particularly near water, ground-dwelling and aerial birds such as pheasants, oriental honey-buzzards, quail, ducks, owls, thrushes, larks and songbirds form a significant proportion of the diet (2) (6) (7). The saker falcon is a ferocious hunter and frequently attacks prey larger than itself (4).

The saker falcon has undergone a rapid decline in recent years, particularly in the Middle East and Asia due to trapping for the falconry trade, and now faces the very real threat of extinction (6). Of those captured for the falconry trade, the vast majority are thought to be young females, creating a major age and sex bias in the wild population that dramatically reduces its breeding potential (2) (6). Females are preferred by falconers due to their larger size and young birds because they are easier to train than adults (2). In Europe, the saker falcon is mainly threatened by the loss and degradation of steppe and dry grassland habitat due to agricultural expansion and declines in sheep pastoralism, which has in turn reduced the availability of key prey species and suitable hunting ground (6). Across the bird’s range, declines are also the result of predation (by eagle owls, steppe eagles and golden eagles), human persecution, electrocution, shooting, poaching, and accidental poisoning through pesticides, which contaminate the falcon’s prey (2) (6) (7). In some parts of its range, rodent plagues result in the extensive use of poisons to control them, causing the indiscriminate deaths of many raptors that feed on them (5) (7).

The saker falcon is protected across much of its range, particularly in Eastern Europe, where controls of illegal trade were implemented in various countries in the 1990s (6). There have been concerted conservation efforts in Europe, and intensive patrolling and management has even produced a steadily rising population in Hungary (5) (6). The species is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and in 2002 CITES imposed a trade ban on the United Arab Emirates (3). However, more needs to be done to monitor illegal trade, which evidently continues, and to enforce regulations against it. Certain countries, including the United Arab Emirates, have reduced the demand for wild-caught birds by captive breeding ‘farmed’ saker falcons to trade to falconers instead (6). A programme to erect artificial nest platforms in the Mongolian steppe is proving a significant conservation measure for the breeding saker falcon population (7). Constructing artificial nests prevents the falcon constructing nests on electricity pylons, during which many are electrocuted (8). In addition, a number of research programmes have also been established to learn more about the distribution, population, and ecology of this species, in addition to the threats facing it, which should help to inform appropriate conservation efforts and management strategies in the future (6).

For more information on the saker falcon: 

For more information on the saker falcon and other bird species:

Authenticated (20/05/08) by Dr. Sundev Gombobaatar, Associate Professor, Zoology Department, National University of Mongolia. Vice President, Mongolian Ornithological Society.
http://www.mos.mn,
info@mos.mn,
mongolianbirds@mail.com.

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Animal Diversity Web (May, 2006)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Falco_cherrug.html
  3. CITES (May, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Blue Planet Biomes (May, 2006)
    http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/saker_falcon.htm
  5. The Hawk Conservancy Trust (May, 2006)
    http://www.hawk-conservancy.org
  6. BirdLife International (May, 2006)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3619&m=0
  7. Gombobaatar S. (2006) Biology, Ecology and Conservation of Saker Falcon in Mongolia. PhD thesis, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  8. Mongolian Ornithological Society (May, 2008)
    http://www.mos.mn/