Deadline for comments: 14 February 2012.
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug is distributed across the Palearctic region, having an extensive but sparsely populated breeding range from Central Europe to western China, with birds wintering generally to the south in parts of southern Europe, northern and eastern Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and China. It is currently listed as Vulnerable under criteria A2b,c,d; A3c,d; A4b,c,d, on the basis that it is estimated to have declined at a rate of 30–49% over the past 19 years (three generations, assuming a generation length of 6.4 years) and was projected to decline at 30–49% over the next 19 years, owing primarily to over-exploitation for trade, habitat degradation and the effects of agrochemicals.
This assessment was based on a detailed analysis by BirdLife of the estimated current and past (1990) population sizes in each of the countries within its distribution, drawing on and interpreting information from a wide range of published and unpublished literature, in particular for the most important range states of China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, plus two states where there was recent evidence of rapid declines: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Estimates for populations in other range states were taken from Haines (2002) and Dixon (2007, 2009) without such detailed re-evaluation because they account for very small proportions of the global population and there is general consensus over their magnitude. The analysis incorporated input received during public consultation on the BirdLife Globally Threatened Bird Forums. An assessment of global trends based on these data (assuming exponential declines and using median national population estimates) suggested that the global rate of decline was c.32% over 19 years, with lower and upper bounds of 29–62% (based on minimum and maximum national population estimates). Given that data for a number of key countries are limited, extremely patchy, rarely based on robust surveys and often contradictory, the assessment as Vulnerable included clear caveats that further information was needed to improve our understanding of the species’s status, and that this information might prompt further reassessment of its Red List category.
Some such new data have been provided in recent publications by Moshkin (2010) and Levin (2011), who present past and present population sizes in the most important range states based on new data sources, particularly for local population trends. In comparison to the figures previously used by BirdLife, key differences in Moshkin’s (2010) estimates include higher estimates of 5,218 pairs in Kazakhstan and 6,500 pairs in Russia in 1990 and a lower estimate of 1,500 pairs in China in 2010. In addition, Levin (2011) gives a new present-day estimate of fewer than 1,000 pairs in Kazakhstan. We discuss these in turn below and consider their significance for the overall rate of decline, the calculation for which can be viewed in the spreadsheet attached.
Trend calculation spreadsheet:
China The estimate given by Moshkin (2010) for the current population in China, of only 1,500 pairs, is much lower than the estimate of 3,000–5,000 pairs given by Dixon (2009), which, following a review of the disparate estimates available for China, was used for the previous trend calculation carried out by BirdLife. In deriving his estimate, Dixon (2009) provides survey results but does not cite their sources. Moshkin (2010) bases his figure on an estimate of 1,000–2,000 pairs in 2007, as published in a report summary by the Xinjiang Conservation Fund (2008), but there is no indication in this report summary of how the estimate was derived. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that trapping pressure in China has been severe (e.g. Li et al. 2000, Xinjiang Conservation Fund 2008), and we precautionarily adopt the lower estimate of 1,500 pairs until better data are available, resulting in a raised estimate for the rate of decline in China over the past three generations.
Moshkin (2010) also criticises BirdLife’s use of an estimate of 4,000–6,000 pairs in China in 1990, which was arrived at by adding 1,000 pairs to the minimum and maximum of Dixon’s (2009) present-day estimate to account for trapping pressure in the intervening period. Moshkin (2010) draws attention to higher estimates, including one of 7,900–13,500 pairs in the 1980s and 1990s (Ye et al. 2001). Contradictorily, however, he asserts that, considering the prevalence of exploitation, a population reduction of 3.0–3.5 times since 1990 seems plausible for China because it is closer to the average rate for Russia and Kazakhstan, and thus estimates a population of 3,000–7,000 pairs in 1990 (Moshkin 2010) through retrospective extrapolation of the more recent estimate of 1,000–2,000 pairs (Xinjiang Conservation Fund 2008). The median of Moshkin’s (2010) revised estimate for 1990 is 5,000 pairs, the same as that used by BirdLife in the 2010 analysis, but Moshkin’s (2010) minimum and maximum estimates for 1990 of 3,000 and 7,000 pairs respectively are incorporated into the calculation of upper and lower trend estimates (see spreadsheet).
Kazakhstan Moshkin’s (2010) estimate for Kazakhstan in 1990 appears to be based on retrospective extrapolation of current estimates and trends. His estimate of 4,808–5,628 (median 5,218) pairs in 1990 is based on estimated regional (sub-national) rates of decline that average c.61% over 20 years, applied to current regional (sub-national) population estimates totalling 1,882–2,179 (median 2,031) pairs nationally, which appear to have been derived from data collected in 2002–2009. The median estimate for 1990 of 5,218 pairs is higher than the 3,500 pairs used by BirdLife, which itself is based on an estimate of 2,000–5,000 pairs for 1985 given by Levin (2000). Moshkin’s (2010) median estimate falls just above the upper estimate used previously by BirdLife. Following a precautionary approach, we now use Moshkin’s (2010) revised estimate for 1990, and therefore derive a more rapid rate of decline in Kazakhstan over the past three generations.
The calculated global rate of decline is further influenced by the incorporation of a new present-day estimate for Kazakhstan of fewer than 1,000 pairs (Levin 2011). An ‘expert assessment’ is presented by Levin (2011) in which the estimated numbers for five regions of Kazakhstan are given, with a resulting total of 980 pairs. However, no minimum-maximum estimates are given to indicate the level of certainty involved. Few clues are provided on exactly how these numbers were arrived at, although they appear to be based on surveys conducted in 2008–2011. Levin’s (2011) new estimate for the population in Kazakhstan is about half that estimated by Moshkin (2010) for 2010. The two estimates were derived from different but overlapping time periods. Levin’s lower population estimate is presumably because the declines are accelerating e.g. he reports a c.65% decline in Central Kazakhstan during 2006–2011, and this is consistent with evidence of severe and ongoing trapping pressure that he presents. Levin’s (2011) estimate is now the most up-to-date known for the country and is incorporated into the revised analysis on a precautionary basis.
Russia The estimate used by Moshkin (2010) for Russia of 6,500 pairs in 1990, (range: 5,700–7,300 pairs), is marginally higher than the median estimate of 6,000 pairs (range 3,000–9,000 pairs) used in BirdLife’s trend calculations and based on estimates given by Galushin (2004) and Karyakin (2008, in litt. 2010). Moshkin (2010) arrives at his estimate by extrapolating retrospectively from the estimate of 1,854–2,542 pairs in 2007 (median 2,198) provided by Karyakin (2008), which was also used in the previous BirdLife analysis for the 2010 population size in Russia. The rates of decline used by Moshkin (2010) for the historic extrapolations are derived from regional decline estimates. In light of these decline estimates, we use Moshkin’s (2010) higher estimate of 6,500 pairs in 1990, resulting in a slightly increased estimate for the rate of decline in Russia over the past three generations.
Mongolia Moshkin (2010) also estimates that Mongolia harboured 2,792–6,980 pairs in 1990 (median 3,884) pairs, this being marginally lower than the median estimate of 4,000 pairs (range 3,000–5,000 pairs) used in the previous BirdLife analysis. The latter was derived by taking a present-day estimate of 2,000–5,000 pairs given by Dixon (2009), and raising the minimum by 1,000 pairs to account for trapping pressure (with perhaps 1,000 birds traded legally and at least another 1,000 birds illegally) and the effects of rodent poisoning. Moshkin (2010) arrives at his estimate by taking Dixon’s (2009) present-day estimate of 2,000–5,000 pairs and extrapolating retrospectively on the basis of a supposition that at least 30% of the population has declined by 32% over the past 20 years. This rate of decline is apparently the trend for the populations in the Altai-Sayan region of Russia nearest the border with Mongolia. Moshkin does not give a source for this, but may have derived it from declines during 2003–2008 of 15% and 17% in the Altai and Tyva republics respectively published by Karyakin and Nikolenko (2008). The assumption that at least 30% of the Mongolian population has declined by this rate is based on the premise that the declines in the neighbouring areas of the Altai-Sayan region (Karyakin and Nikolenko 2008) are indicative of a decline overall in north-western Mongolia. Moshkin’s (2010) estimates for Mongolia have little bearing on the overall trend estimate and are integrated into the revised analysis on the basis that they are refinements of the estimates previously used by BirdLife.
The incorporation of these revisions based on Moshkin (2010) and Levin (2011) into the global trend calculation, utilising the same median estimates for other range states that were used in BirdLife’s 2010 analysis, results in an estimated decline of 54% (23–75%) over the past 19 years (see attached spreadsheet). This qualifies the species as Endangered. As in the 2010 analysis, this categorisation remains based on very uncertain data that can support a broad range of interpretations, and is thus inherently unstable and may be subject to revision once more robust data on population sizes and trends are available. Significant questions remain about the robustness and transparency of methodology applied by Moshkin (2010) and Levin (2011). However, the weight of evidence regarding ongoing threats and local population declines indicates that these new estimates should be used, for precautionary reasons and in the absence of any more reliable information, when calculating an estimate for the overall rate of decline. It is therefore proposed that the species be uplisted to Endangered under criteria A2b,c,d; A4b,c,d, albeit with caveats that more robust data on population sizes and trends remain needed.
Comments on this proposed category change and further relevant information would be welcomed, including insights into the likely rate of decline over the next three generations
Dixon, A. (2007) Saker Falcon breeding population estimates. Part 1: Europe. Falco 29: 4-12.
Dixon, A. (2009) Saker Falcon breeding population estimates. Part 2: Asia. Falco 33: 4-10.
Galushin, V. (2004) Status of the Saker in Russia and eastern Europe. Falco 24: 3-8.
Haines, G. (2002) An assessment of the impact of trade on the Saker Falcon. Undergraduate (Part II) dissertation, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.
Karyakin, I. V. (2008) Saker Falcon in Russia. Raptors Conservation 12: 28-47.
Karyakin, I. V. and Nikolenko, E. G. (2008) Monitoring results on the Saker Falcon population in the Altai-Sayan region in 2008, Russia. Raptors Conservation 14: 63-73.
Levin, A. S. (2000) Problems of Saker Falcon conservation in Kazakhstan. Falco 16: 8-9.
Levin, A. S. (2011) Illegal Trade and decrease in numbers of the Saker Falcon in Kazakhstan. Raptors Conservation 23: 64-73.
Levin, A. S. and Dixon, A. (2008) Long-term monitoring of breeding Saker Falcons in eastern Kazakhstan. Falco 32: 11-14. Li Yi-ming, Gao Zenxiang, Li Xinhai, Wang Sung and Niemelä, J. (2000) Illegal wildlife trade in the Himalayan region of China. Biodiversity & Conservation 9: 901-918.
Moshkin, A. V. (2010) Is there any scientific basis for decreasing the conservation status of the Saker Falcon? Raptors Conservation 19: 37-74.
Xinjiang Conservation Fund (2008) Summary Version of Report on Illegal Poaching and Trade of Saker Falcon in Xinjiang. Available at: http://www.greengrants.org.cn/file/pub/saker.pdf
Ye Xiaodi, Wan Ziming and Bai Yanxia (2001) The Saker Falcon in China is fighting for survival. Pp.80-94 in E. Potapov, S. Banzragch, N. Fox & N. Barton, eds. Saker Falcon in Mongolia: research and conservation (Proceedings of II International Conference on Saker Falcon and Houbara Bustard, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1–4 July 2000). Ulaanbaatar: Ministry of Nature and Environment.
Final trend calculation spreadsheet, 21 February 2012: Falco cherrug calculation of global rate of decline 21 Feb 12