The Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) is a bird of prey living in the forest plains and steppes in the west and the semi-desert mountain plateaus and cliffs in the east. The majority of its population in Central and Eastern Europe is migratory and spends winters in the Mediterranean, the Near East and East Africa. With its estimated global population of 6,100 to 14,900 breeding pairs, the species is considered endangered according to the IUCN Red List.
In Bulgaria, the Saker Falcon, considered extinct as a breeding species since the early 2000s, was recovered in 2018 with the discovery of the first active nest in its new history in Bulgaria. The nest is built by two birds that were reintroduced in 2015 as part of the very first Saker Falcon reintroduction program. The results of the five-year program are described in detail in the open access, peer-reviewed document Biodiversity Data Log.
Many factors have contributed to the decline of the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria and around the world, and most of them are man-made. Populations have lost large parts of their habitat due to changes in land use – the transition from grazing to arable crops has led to the decrease in major sources of food. Other reasons include the use of toxic baits and the build-up of pesticides in the food chain, illegal trade in chicks and poached eggs at the nest, electrocution of power lines and lack of suitable nesting places. .
Even after the implementation of European legislation for the protection of wildlife and the publication of regulations on the use of pesticides in Bulgaria, the Saker Falcon population has not stabilized. Its endangered status has also prompted joint conservation efforts between NGOs and national authorities.
As a result, a Saker Falcon reintroduction program in Bulgaria was started in 2015, aimed at releasing a number of birds over a period of time using adaptive aviaries, or hacks. The Green Balkan Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Center (WRBC) in Stara Zagora facilitated the captive breeding of a group of Saker Falcons imported from Austria, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia and Poland by building and equipping ten breeding aviaries and two cattle cages for juvenile falcons. with internal surveillance cameras.
Between 2015 and 2020, a total of 80 Saker Falcons – 27 females and 53 males, were freed via the method of hacking four aviaries near the town of Stara Zagora. Of these, 64 had been bred and hatched at WRBC.
Sighting records from 2018 confirmed that at least one pair of falcons released in 2015 are currently breeding in the wild in Bulgaria. This observation proves that with the help of hacking, Sakers can survive in the wild to maturity, return to the region of their release, and reproduce successfully. In 2020, the female bird of the breeding pair was changed to a Saker Falcon released in 2016, and the new pair successfully bred.
In 2020, the program was relaunched for another 5 years, with the goal of freeing 100 Saker Falcons and having six pairs breeding in the wild. This will help restore the Saker Falcon population in the southern Balkans and facilitate gene flow among fragmented populations from central Europe to Kazakhstan.
Helping this iconic species to successfully establish a self-sustaining population in Bulgaria has profound implications for conservation in the country – not only in terms of raising public awareness of species conservation, but also as an indicator of broader environmental issues. .
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