The LIFE of Falcons project aims to enable the recovery of the endangered Saker falcon in Bulgaria and southern Romania.
Saker falcons belonging to the larger populations in Hungary and Slovakia still visits Bulgaria and southern Romania, and an important part of the project is to make the situation better for them in Bulgaria and southern Romania by providing safer dispersal areas, stopover areas, wintering grounds, and breeding territories.
Part of the project is aimed at mitigating the underlying causes of falcon killings and deaths in Bulgaria and southern Romania. Three important focus points for this are:
- Falcons are dying from electrocution, and the project therefore plans to insulate at least 300 dangerous pylons.
- Keepers of racing pigeons sometimes kill falcons to protect their pigeons from being preyed upon. An important step for the project is therefore to implement measures that will reduce predation on racing pigeons.
- The project aims to increase local capacity for bird crime prevention by training law enforcement officers how to more efficiently investigate illegal wildlife killings, nest robberies and the illegal use of pesticides and poison.
The project, which is coordinated by the Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds, involves several participants, including:
- The IBER-BAS institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Bulgaria
- The NGO Green Balkans (Stara Zagora), Bulgaria
- UHAB (Union of Hunters and Anglers in Bulgaria), Bulgaria
- SOR (Romanian Ornithological Society/BirdLife Romania), Romania
- EKUT (Eberhard Karls University Tübingen), Germany
- HabFound (De Habitat Stichting / The Habitat Foundation), Netherlands
About the Saker falcon
The Saker falcon (Falco cherrug) is a large falcon that has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2012, when its listing status was changed to Endangered from just Vulnerable. The 2012 change was prompted by an evaluated decline of around 50% in its global population within the previous 20 years.
The Saker falcon´s native range includes parts of central and south-eastern Europe, fairly limited areas in northern and central Africa, and parts of Asia. The breeding region for the bird runs from central Europe eastwards across the Palearctic to Manchuria. It is a migratory bird, except for a few areas in the southernmost parts of its range where Saker falcons have been observed year round. Examples of notable wintering places are Ethiopia, the Arabian peninsula, northern Pakistan, and western China.
The Saker falcon is the national bird of three different countries: Hungary, the United Arab Emirates, and Mongolia.
About the Saker falcon in Bulgaria and Romania
In Europe, the historical range of the Sake falcon has become dramatically reduced and fragmented since the end of World War II, and one of the places where the falcon has had its habitat both diminished, damaged and broken up is the Bulgaria-Romania cross-border region.
The Saker falcon used to be widespread in Bulgaria, but a drastic decline was recorded in the 1950s. Since 2010, only a few occupied territories have been reported in Bulgaria, and only one nest has been found. Over roughly four decades, the population declined by 90%.
An investigation in Romania that took place following the implementation of the cross-border project LIFE09 NAT/HU/000384 showed that at least 23 breeding pairs had been reported in the previous five years.
Examples from the project
Here are a few examples of details from the project plan; some of these actions have already been carried out at the time of writing or are currently going on.
A total of 100 ha of land will be purchased by the Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds for long-term conservation of key plots.
- 100 ha of grassland will be restored and managed to serve as feeding grounds.
- Trees will be planted in at least 5 Special Protection Areas.
- 120 artifical nests will be placed in Special Protection Areas to attract falcons.
Reduced conflict with pigeon keepers
The project will work together with race pigeon keepers to reduce the number of falcons killed by pigeon keepers.
- Pigeons will be bred for the falcons to prey on, reducing their need to prey on racing pigeons.
- Five decoy pigeon lofts will be created.
Having sufficient wild prey for the falcons (and keeping racing pigeons safe) is integral for the success of the project. Therefore, the project will promote the recovery of key prey species such as the European ground squirrel, and translocations will be carried out to the purchased land plots.
In at least one protected area, the project will breed and restock Romanian hamsters. Captive populations will be developed and kept ready for future reintroduction programmes.
Law enforcement officers will receive training about illegal wildlife killings. This includes seminars on illegal hunting, nest robbery, and unlawful pesticide use.
3-5 falcon nests will be safeguarded using technical or volunteer surveillance schemes.
At least 300 pylons will be insulated to prevent electrocution of birds.
- An outreach program will target 200 farmers with information about the risks associated with using pesticides (including banned pesticides and improperly used pesticides).
- Awareness-raising activities will be held for at least 1000 hunters.
- Over 10,000 local people will be actively involved in Saker falcon conservation actions.
- At least 1 million people in Bulgaria, and in countries that are along the falcon´s flyway, will be informed about the project.
- At selected key sites, public authorities will be actively involved in Saker falcon conservation activities.
- Local networks will be formed that includes local stakeholders, racing pigeon keepers and hunters.