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Reintroduction of the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria

In brief about the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug)

The Saker Falcon is one of the three large falcon species in Bulgaria. It has adapted to hunting low above the surface in open spaces with low vegetation. It feeds on small rodents, including souslik, but also small and medium sized birds, such as pigeons. Its nesting range is from Central Europe to East Asia. During the winter some birds fly to Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. It doesn’t build its nests alone, but instead mostly occupies already built nests of ravens and buzzards on trees and rocks.

The Saker Falcon is a rare species which is included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) under the category “Endangered”. In the Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria, it’s included under the category “Critically endangered”. This means urgent measures for its conservation at national and international level are needed.

The reasons for the decline and disappearance of the Saker Falcon as a breeding species in Bulgaria are anthropogenic. They are complex and appear in the early 20th century when a national campaign for the mass killing of the predatory birds under the category “harmful game” began. Tens of thousands of birds have been killed annually. According to the Bulgarian Hunting Union only in 1957 70 000 birds of prey were killed. Later, from the middle of the 20th century, massive degradation of pastures and their transformation into agricultural land began, so the saker falcons rarely founded food (including sousliks). Agricultural land has been treated with organochlorine pesticides (DDT), which have been already banned. The pesticides are extremely harmful to the breeding abilities of the predatory birds. In addition, a large-scale drainage of the wetlands where the falcons have hunted waterfowl begun. In the 1970s, the already drastically reduced population faced a new problem – catching falcons for the purpose of falconry. Thus, for about 100 years as a result of the human activity, at the beginning of the 21st century the breeding saker falcons in Bulgaria are almost fully extinct.

What is reintroduction?

Reintroduction is a process of returning of species in areas from which they have disappeared. Its ultimate goal is the restoration of breeding and stable in time populations. Reintroductions are a powerful tool for species conservation and one of the six strategies for biodiversity conservation under Bulgarian legislation. Successful reintroduction requires research, time, funding, luck, enthusiasm, persistence – this is what the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines for translocation of species say.

What do we do?

Reintroduction is a process of returning of species in areas from which they have disappeared. Its ultimate goal is the restoration of breeding and stable in time populations. Reintroductions are a powerful tool for species conservation and one of the six strategies for biodiversity conservation under Bulgarian legislation. Successful reintroduction requires research, time, funding, luck, enthusiasm, persistence – this is what the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines for translocation of species say.

Research

From 2006 to 2010, we investigated all the historical localities of the Saker Falcon in our country. We’ve checked for the presence of the saker falcons in the best habitats for them today. Despite all efforts, we have not found breeding falcons! This made us think that reintroduction is the necessary and important activity for the conservation of this species in our country.

As a result of these studies, we have prepared a document entitled “Saker Falcon Falco cherrug Reintroduction in Bulgaria. Feasibility Study”. The document examines all aspects of the species population recovery in Bulgaria, such as:

  • The historical population status of the species;
  • Reasons to reduce and disappear as breeding species;
  • The possibilities for natural return of the Saker Falcon in our country;
  • Biology and habitat requirements of the species;
  • The suitability of 15 regions of the country for the return of birds to them;
  • Best practices and methods for reintroduction of birds of prey;
  • The taxonomic status of the Saker Falcon and the current knowledge of geographic variations in the species population;
  • The effect of a possible international translocation of young falcons on the wild population;
  • The terms for the creation of a group of wild falcons after dispersion of a certain number of individuals;
  • Criteria for assessing the success of a possible reintroduction of the species.

Pilot releases of Saker Falcons in Bulgaria

In 2011 we began the dispersion of hatched young falcons in nature. We managed to release 17 young falcons in nature in four years. These were pilot reintroductions in which most birds were equipped with satellite transmitters to show us what happens to the falcons in the wild – how many of them survive, what causes the mortality of the species, what habitats they prefer. The places of release were the Central Balkan National Park, the Thracian Lowland (Malko Chadievo Village) and the Kotlenski Balkan.

The results are already visible. Observations on our birds have shown that their survival is similar to that of wild falcons (data from Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine). The released falcons return to the place of their release in the coming years to seek a breeding partner. So far, due to the lack of other falcons, they fail to create a pair and nest.

The population model, based on the available data, showed that at least 20 young falcons should be released each year for 5 years in order to restore the population in Bulgaria.

Breeding program

We have created a breeding program with birds of European origin, whose offspring we return to nature. Three breeding pairs each year raise 10 – 15 young falcons ready for release. The program implements thanks to Plamen Paskalev, a member of the board of the Bulgarian Falcon Association, whose voluntary efforts and knowledge in the breeding of birds of prey are unique in Bulgaria.

Artificial nest

Since saker falcons do not build nests but rely on already built ones of other birds, this is often a limiting factor for species encountering in certain areas. In order to reduce the effect of this factor, we placed artificial nests in Northeastern Bulgaria, where that saker falcons are found regularly in winter, but there are not enough ravens and buzzards to provide a natural breeding base. The activity was carried out in partnership with the National Electricity Company, which allowed the placement of nests on the poles of the high-voltage power grid in Dobrudja. Similar poles in recent years have been the main breeding habitats of saker falcons in Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine in recent years.

Workshops and conferences

Recognizing the need for coordinated and science-based conservation of the species in Bulgaria, we organize regular workshops and conferences that involve all organizations and experts interested in the conservation of the saker falcon in Bulgaria and Europe.

Information campaign

Conservation of nature and species is only effective if it involves the general public. The more people know about nature conservation problems and the need to conserve biodiversity, the easier it is to find solutions. The dissemination of information materials and the conduct of campaigns is a fundamental tool of our foundation in pursuit of its mission.

National Action Plan for the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) in Bulgaria

A member of the team of the Science for Nature Foundation and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research participated as an author in the National Action Plan for the Protection of the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria for the period 2013 – 2022. The Plan is the main strategic document describing in detail the necessary activities to improve the conservation status of the species in Bulgaria. It was adopted by the Ministry of Environment and Water in 2013. The document can be downloaded here.

Support us

Adoption

You could adopt some of the saker falcon in our breeding program and provide the financial support for the bird for a year. The food for 1 individual per year costs 400 euro.

Donation

You can donate for the Saker Falcon conservation here. You will receive a donation contract and a souvenir gift from us.

Buy T-shirts and souvenirs

You can buy T-shirts, notebooks, cards and glasses with the Saker Falcon project logo. The funds obtained will be used for the reintroduction of saker falcons in nature. The materials will be available soon in our online store.

 

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