Scientific Name: Falco cherrug
The Saker is a large falcon, almost as large as the Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus), with an exceptionally broad wingspan for its size. Great variation in color and pattern can be found from a fairly uniform chocolate brown, to a pale sandy color with brown bars/streaks, to almost pure white. In general, however, they have a brown upperbelly and contrasting greyish flight feathers. The head and underparts are paler brown, with streaking from the breast down. Young birds tend to be a duller brown.
Length: 18″ avg.
Wingspan: 41″ avg.
Weight: 1.6 – 2.2 lb.
Length: 22″ avg.
Wingspan: 49″ avg.
Weight: 1.1 – 2.9 lb.
Classified as Endangered on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List, and listed on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species). A steep decline has been observed in much of its range. The Saker is protected across much of its range, particularly in Eastern Europe, where controls of illegal trade were put into place in the 1990’s, contributing to a rising population in Hungary. CITES has imposed a trade ban on the UAE, and certain countries, including the UAE, have initiated captive breeding programs to reduce the demand for wild-caught birds. A program to erect artificial nest platforms in the Mongolian steppe is proving a significant conservation measure, particularly helping reduce nests on power poles which result in electrocution.
Open habitat preferred such as arid montane, forest steppe and semi-desert steppe habitat; preferably with some trees or cliffs.
Small mammals such as voles, rats, stoats, weasels, chipmunks, gerboas, hares, pikas, and birds. Particularly near water, birds can make up a significant portion of the diet, both ground-dwelling and aerial birds, from pheasants and ducks to songbirds. Hunting is often by horizontal pursuit, rather than the high altitude stoops of the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). In Europe, feral pigeons and urban squirrels are the most common prey. Their flight is highly agile and extremely fast as they often hunt close to the ground.
A loud, harsh “kek-kek-kek-kek” that is generally hoarser sounding than the Peregrine. A noisy bird in the breeding season, but otherwise rather silent.
As with other Falcons, Sakers make no nest of their own but will reuse stick nests built by other large birds; also nests on cliffs laying eggs directly on rocks.
Trapping throughout Asia for sale to the Middle East falconry market has taken a disproportionate percentage of females (preferred for their size, ferocity, and trainability), seriously affecting the breeding population. Climate change has changed the vegetation in its typically arid habitat, leading to the disappearance of some of its favored prey species, such as the Red-cheeked Sousliks, a type of ground squirrel. Rodenticides used to deal with rodent plagues in various parts of the Saker range have resulted in loss of the falcons, and electrocution on unsafe power poles in areas of its range where these poles are often the highest thing around.
This species breeds from Eastern Europe (it is the National Bird of Hungary and holds a place in ancient Hungarian mythology), eastwards across Asia to Mongolia, and migrates south into Africa and parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East, and locally, to northern India and mid-China. This bird is a great favorite with Middle Eastern falconers and is often trapped during migration for sale to the Middle East. They are one of the most endangered falcons in the world.