Europe and Central Asia
3 Aug 2018

Saker success in Bulgaria

For the first time in ten years, an active nest of Saker Falcon has been found in Bulgaria. Hopes are high that this endangered raptor is one step closer to establishing a sustainable breeding population in the country.

Saker Falcon © Nikolay Petkov
By Iordanka Goranova

For the first time in ten years, an active nest of Saker Falcon Falco cherrug has been found in Bulgaria. Hopes are high that this endangered raptor is one step closer to establishing a sustainable breeding population in the country.

Birders in Bulgaria are reveling in the excitement of a particularly special raptor sighting – an active nest of Saker Falcon. The discovery, recently made by a team from BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria, has set hearts alight as it is the first substantiated case of the species breeding here in the last ten years. Better yet, conservationists observing the nest have noted that this pair has hatched two chicks who have successfully left the nest and are already flying into the wild.

Saker Falcon © Ferenc Sarlos

At the end of the 19th Century, the Saker Falcon could be found in relative abundance across much of Bulgaria. But over the course of the 1950s to 1970s numbers began to noticeably drop. This decline stemmed from a number of root causes: habitat destruction, food scarcity due to more intensive farming practices and a nationwide persecution of birds of prey in general. In the 1980s, the small number of active nests in the country were routinely robbed by the taking of eggs or nestlings. By the turn of the new century, this Saker tragedy seemed to be entering its final act with surveys indicating the presence of only one or two breeding pairs in the entire country.

Enter Romeo and Juliet. For several years, Green Balkans and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research have been leading a Saker Falcon reintroduction project.  In 2015, a number of Saker falcons bred in captivity were released following a pilot ‘stepwise adaptation’ methodology for adapting to the wild. And thanks to the ring codes attached to these released birds, conservationists were able to tell that the newly discovered breeding pair originated from this reintroduction centre. Indeed, the male (code ‘5E’) is now known to have been bred from a pair named Romeo and Juliet and the female (code ‘5P’) from another pair called Orpheus and Aphrodite.

Saker Falcon © David Izquierdo

This exciting news is hopefully just the first step towards the establishment of a sustainable breeding population in the country. However, reintroduction schemes can’t solve the problem alone. BSPB is making tremendous efforts to mitigate the many threats the raptors face once released into the wild, such as the risk of electrocution, illegal killing and nest robberies. Thanks to projects like “Save the Raptors”, BSPB has been able to install hundreds of artificial nests, clad thousands of powerline poles with safety insulation and even launch a special agri-environmental measure to protect pastures and meadows which are key feeding sites for birds of prey. If conservationists, local authorities, power companies and farmers can continue to work together in partnership like this, then there is good reason to hope for the return of the great Saker falcon to Bulgaria.

 

Iordanka Goranova – Communications Officer, BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria

The activities under the project “Saker Falcon reintroduction in Bulgaria”, implemented by Green Balkans, are financially supported  by the  International Wildlife Consultants (UK) Ltd., the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, Armeec Insurance JSC, Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, ZOO BOJNICE, and Luboš and Marta Vaněk. BSPB actions aimed at Saker falcon conservation were supported by BBC and EU LIFE program in the frame of LIFE 07 NAT/BG/000068 and  LIFE09 NAT/HU/000384 projects .



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