Saker Falcon Falco cherrug


Justification of Red List category
This species is listed as Endangered because a population trend analysis indicates that it may be undergoing a very rapid decline. This negative trend is a result of a range of anthropogenic factors including electrocution on power lines, unsustainable capture for the falconry trade, as well as habitat degradation and the impacts of agrochemicals, and the rate of decline appears to be particularly severe in the species's central Asian breeding grounds. This classification is highly uncertain and may be revised when new information becomes available. Surveys are urgently needed to produce more robust and less uncertain population estimates, in particular for China, Russia and Mongolia. Further research to monitor key populations and to clarify the extent of anthropogenic threats and their effect on population trends is vital.

Population justification
The historical and present global population size remains subject to considerable uncertainty; however, a revised analysis of available data resulted in a global population estimate of c.17,400-28,800 breeding pairs (median c.22,100) in 1990, incorporating estimates for the most important range states as given by Moshkin (2010), with the largest numbers in China (3,000-7,000 pairs, median 5,000), Kazakhstan (4,808-5,628 pairs, median 5,218), Mongolia (2,792-6,980 pairs, median 3,884) and Russia (5,700-7,300 pairs, median 6,500), in addition to collated estimates for other countries (Haines 2002, Dixon 2007, 2009).

A total population of c.6,100-14,900 pairs (median c.10,500), equating to 12,200-29,800 mature individuals, was calculated as part of the Saker Falcon Action Plan (Kovács et al. 2014), including the most important range states of China (1,000-5,000 pairs, median 3,000 [A. Dixon in litt. 2012]), Kazakhstan (700-1,400 in 2012; median 1,050 pairs [per Kovács et al. 2014]), Mongolia (2,000-5,000 pairs, median 3,500 [Dixon 2009; per Kovács et al. 2014]) and Russia (1,553-2,089 in 2011, median 1,821 [Karyakin and Nikolenko 2011, Karyakin et al. 2012 per Kovács et al. 2014]), and collated estimates for other countries (Haines 2002, Dixon 2007, 2009, see Kovács et al. 2014). The small European population is estimated at 430-630 pairs, equivalent to 860-1,300 mature individuals (BirdLife International In prep.).

Trend justification
The global population was estimated at c.17,400-28,800 breeding pairs (median c.22,100) in 1990, and c.6,100-14,900 pairs (median c.10,500) in 2013. Assuming a generation length of 6.08 years (Bird et. al. 2020) and that the species's decline had already begun (at least in some areas) prior to the 1990s (consumption in the Middle East was heavy by the mid-1980s), the overall population trend during the 19-year period 2002-2021 equates to a 44.6% decline (based on median estimates), with a minimum-maximum decline of 12-71%. Given the substantial degree of uncertainty over the estimates used, the population trend is best placed precautionarily in the band for a 50-79% decline over three generations.

Distribution and population

This species occurs in a wide range across the Palearctic region from eastern Europe to western China, breeding in ArmeniaAustria, Bulgaria, Croatia, CzechiaHungary, Moldova, Romania, Russia, SerbiaSlovakia, TurkeyUkraine, Iran (Islamic Republic of)Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China, occasionally in Georgia, and at least formerly in Turkmenistan and probably Afghanistan, possibly Iraq and India (Ladakh), with wintering or passage populations regularly in Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, U.A.E., Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan, with much smaller numbers or vagrants reaching many other countries (Baumgart 1991, 1994, Snow and Perrins 1998, Haines 2002, ERWDA 2003, Kovács et al. 2014).  


It is physically adapted to hunting close to the ground in open terrain, combining rapid acceleration with high manoeuvrability, thus specialising on mid-sized diurnal terrestrial rodents (especially ground squirrels Spermophilus) of open grassy landscapes such as desert edge, semi-desert, steppes, agricultural and arid montane areas. In some areas, particularly near water and even in urban environments (A. Kovács in litt. 2016), it switches to birds as key prey, and has recently substituted domestic pigeons for rodents in parts of Europe (Baumgart 1991, Snow and Perrins 1998). It uses copses or cliffs for nest sites (sometimes even the ground), occupying the old nests of other birds (Baumgart 1991, Snow and Perrins 1998). Clutch size varies from three to five (exceptionally two to six), with means from 3.2-3.9 in different circumstances (Baumgart 1991, Snow and Perrins 1998, A. Kovács in litt. 2016). Breeding success varies with year (especially in areas where rodents cycle) (Baumgart 1991, Snow and Perrins 1998). The species usually occurs singly or in pairs (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Birds are sedentary, part-migratory or fully migratory, largely depending on the extent to which food supply in breeding areas disappears in winter (Baumgart 1991, Snow and Perrins 1998). Migrant birds winter in East Africa, southern Europe and southern Asia, with 25-50% of the global population wintering on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (Dixon et al. 2015b), and generally leave their breeding grounds in September and October, returning between February and May (del Hoyo et al. 1994).


In Europe, this species has suffered mainly from electrocution on power lines and decreased prey availability due to the loss and degradation of steppes and dry grasslands through agricultural intensification, plantation establishment and declines in sheep pastoralism, while offtake for falconry has also been a serious problem, which has caused local extinctions in the past (Baumgart 1991, 1994, Kovács et al. 2014, K. Ruskov in litt. 2007, A. Kovács in litt. 2016). 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). Brochet et al. (2019) estimated that 8% of the European population is illegally killed/ taken in Northern and Central Europe and the Caucasus each year. Deliberate shooting/ poisoning by pigeon keepers and unintentional or negligent poisoning through agriculture or hunting activities (e.g. rodenticides, poisoned baits, lead) poses a further threat. 

Elsewhere, declines are mainly attributable to offtake for falconry (especially trapping of breeding birds), habitat change resulting in prey loss in Kazakhstan (Watson & Clarke 2000) and electrocution on power lines (e.g. Dixon et al. 2013, 2017), although persecution, pesticide use leading to secondary poisoning (notably in Mongolia in 2003) and agrochemical deployment play a lesser part (Baumgart 1991; Remple 1994; Barton 2000; Riddle 1994; Eastham et al. 2000; Fox 2002; Haines 2002; ERWDA 2003; Kovács et al. 2014). 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). Other studies, however, give a far lower estimate for numbers legally trapped in Saudi Arabia, e.g. at an average of 22 birds per year in the period 2002-2009 (M. Shobrak in litt. 2010); 19.7 individuals per year for period 1989-2013 to 575 individuals over period 1996-2013 (see Shobrak 2015). The Qinghai Wildlife Management Bureau estimate that at least 1,200 Saker Falcons per year are illegally trapped in Qinghai province, China (Zhang et al. 2008). Illegal trapping has also been recorded in Jordan (Eid & Handal 2018). Brochet et al. (2019) estimated that 8% of the European population is illegally killed/ taken in Northern and Central Europe and the Caucasus each year. Electrocution is another significant cause of mortality - 1,721 electrocuted Saker Falcons were found during surveys in Mongolia during 2013-2015 and 2018, most of which were juveniles (Dixon et al. 2020). It has been suggested that hybridisation with escaped or released hybrid falcons could influence the genetic integrity of wild populations (Nittinger et al. 2006), but risk is considered to be low (Dixon 2012). 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 (Dixon et al. 2016). There is some evidence that harness-mounted satellite transmitters used for research may reduce survival (Dixon et al. 2016b). 

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
This is a protected and Red-listed species in many range states, particularly in the western parts of its range (Baumgart 1991, 1994). It is listed on CMS Appendix I and II (as of November 2011, and excluding the Mongolian population) and CITES Appendix II, and in 2002 CITES imposed a trade ban on UAE, strongly affecting the unregulated market there (Fox 2002). It occurs in a number of protected areas across its range. Intensive wardening and management has produced a steadily rising population in Hungary (Baumgart 1994). Controls of illegal trade were implemented in various countries in western range in 1990s (Baumgart 1994). Captive breeding has developed strongly in some countries, including UAE, as a means of substituting farmed for wild-caught birds (Riddle and Remple 1994, Dixon, 2012, N. Fox in litt. 2002). Clinics have also been set up to improve the longevity and availability of wild-caught birds in various Gulf states (Riddle and Remple 1994, Bailey et al. 2001). New research programmes in many parts of the range have begun to establish baseline data on distribution, population, ecology and threats. For instance, satellite tracking of individuals is taking place, with the aim of revealing movements and site use (e.g. Bagyura et al. 2012, Gamauf and Dosedel 2012, Prommer et al. 2012). Artificial nests have been erected in some areas, and in particular in Mongolia, >5,000 artificial nests were erected with funding from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, providing nesting sites for 766 pairs by 2014 (Bagyura et al. 2012; Rahman et al. 2014; Dixon 2015; Dixon 2011); and this programme in Mongolia led to the production of >10,000 fledglings since 2011 (A. Dixon in litt. 2021). Over 10,000 artificial nests and perches have been erected by Chinese authorities on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau as part of measures to control Plateau Pikas. chicks in 2013 (Middle East Falcon Research Group 2013). As a product of the resolution resulting from CMS COP10 in November 2011, a Saker Falcon Task Force was established and met for the first time in March 2012 in Abu Dhabi (UAE). A Global Action Plan for the Saker Falcon was produced in 2014 (Kovács et al. 2014). Conservation efforts in Europe have resulted in positive population trends (A. Dixon in litt. 2012). A captive-breeding and release programme is being implemented in Bulgaria to restore the extirpated breeding population (Dixon et al. 2019a). 80 Saker Falcons were released during the period 2015-2020, and the first successful breeding in the wild was confirmed in 2018 (Lazarova et al. 2021). Trials of mitigation techniques to reduce electrocution rates have been implemented at power lines in Mongolia (Dixon et al. 2018, 2019b), with further proposals to implement retrofitting at a national scale in the country. CMS Raptors MoU, IUCN, BirdLife International and International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey launched an information portal and online survey in 2015, which was updated to a 10-language network with regional satellites in 2019, and has had 16,000 visitors (www.sakernet.org). 

Conservation Actions Proposed
Implement the Saker Global Action Plan through strong stakeholder collaboration within the Saker Falcon Adaptive Management Framework (A. Kovács in litt. 2016). Maintain or implement programmes of population and habitat management throughout the range, and ensure that legislation is appropriate and effective to prevent overharvest (A. Kovács in litt. 2016). Maintain or improve systems of wardening and customs control (including DNA sampling to check provenance of traded birds). Enforce CITES regulations, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. Improve exportation standards including meeting IATA transportation specifications. Improve import regulations, staff capacity and practices (quarantine facilities). Monitor markets to quantify falcon trade. Develop existing microchipping schemes to help monitor and regulate trade and quantify its effects. Increase awareness of health and conservation issues among falconers. Continue key biological research (Baumgart 1991, 1994), such as studying, monitoring and censusing the species throughout its range. This may also include further studying of migration routes, changes in metapopulations, as well as investigating the degree of impact anthropogenic activities (other than trapping for trade) have on this species (Kovács et al. 2014, A. Kovács in litt. 2016). Continue to establish controlled artificial nest systems where safe nest sites are limited to increase breeding population and breeding success (A. Kovács in litt. 2016). Falcon health care and controlled releases/reintroduction may reduce the pressure on wild Saker Falcon populations and thereby play an important role in the recovery of the species (A. Kovács in litt. 2016), and a pilot release project has been completed in Bulgaria to restore an extirpated population (Dixon et al. 2019a). Maintain ecologically and socially sustainable grazing systems to ensure long-term survival of key prey species. Bring greater protection (against conversion, degradation and pollution) to key breeding environments (Baumgart 1991, Bailey et al. 2001, Fox 2002, ERWDA 2003). Ensure that new and fully reconstructed electric lines are safe for birds by design, and modify existing high-risk poles to be safe for birds with the most cost-effective mitigation measures (A. Kovács in litt. 2016). Raise the awareness of stakeholders about the risks of bird - power line interactions, bird friendly designs, their quality applications and priorities for mitigation (A. Kovács in litt. 2016). Review and improve the legal protection of the Saker Falcon where it is necessary to protect it from unintentional or deliberate killing and disturbance where it is considered detrimental (A. Kovács in litt. 2016).


Text account compilers
Haskell, L.

Andersen, M., Attila, M., Balazs, I., Burfield, I., Dixon, A., Fox, N., Galushin, V.M., Iankov, P., Kamp, J., Karyakin, I., Katzner, T., Kenward, R., Kovács, A., Levin, A., Luca, D., Nagy, A., Nagy, S., Nikolenko, E., Olvedi, S., Onon, Y., Parau, L., Pechacek, P., Potapov, E., Prommer, M., Sandor, A., Shobrak, M., Spasov, S., Spina, F., Staneva, A., Symes, A., Ashpole, J, Taylor, J., Gilroy, J., Collar, N., Butchart, S., Khwaja, N., Westrip, J.R.S. & Horvath, M.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Falco cherrug. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/saker-falcon-falco-cherrug on 30/11/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 30/11/2023.