The Saker falcon (Falco cherrug) is a fast falcon and distributes in three subspecies in Eurasia and the northern part of Africa. In Eastern and Central Europe the Saker Falcon is among the rare breeding species. Falconers in Europe fly Saker falcons and are also busy breeding these birds to protect the species. In falconry falcons alre also called longwings.
The German breeding population is more than marginal. But the Saker falcon is breeding in the southern German states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and more to the north in Schleswig-Holstein. Sightings outside these areas are mainly considered to be rare guests.
Subspecies of the Saker Falcon
Across the entire distribution area we can find three subspecies of this falcon:
- Falco rusticolus cherrug J.E. Gray – distributed from southeast Europe to western Asia
- Falco r. milvipes – distributed across the central Asian mountain ranges
- Falco rusticolus altaicus – western parts of the central Asian high mountains and sometimes also called Altai falcon, though this is unfounded.
Characteristics of the Saker Falcon
Species: Saker Falcon
Scientific Name: Falco cherrug
Names and Synonyms of the Saker Falcon
German: Saker Falcon
French: Faucon sacre
Spanish: Halcón Sacre
Russian: Baloban Балобан
Kazakh: Ақсұңқар, Ителгі
Mongol: Идлэг шонхор
Nepali: तोप बाज
Bengali: সাকের শাহিন
Persian: بالابان , بالابان (چرخ)
Hebrew: בז צידים, בז ציידים
Arabic: الصقر الحر, الصقر الحر الصقر الحر, صقر الغزال
Swahili: Kozi Madoa
Chinese: 猎 隼, 猎隼, 獵隼
Chinese (traditional): 獵隼
Distribution of the Saker Falcon
Palearctic, during winter Afrotropical and partly Indomlayan. Breeds in in central and eastern Europe, eastwards across central Asia; countries: north Germany, northeast Austria, Hungary, northeast Croatia, northern part of the Balkan, eastwards to Romania, Bulgariy, Moldova, Ukraine, further east to Urals and southern Russia, further on to Siberia and to Mongolia; Turkey, Iraq, north and west Iran, northernmost Afghanistan, Kirghizia, northern China.
Movements – Wintering and Habitat of the Saker Falcon
Movements: Juveniles are entirely migratory. In Central Europe adults are mostly resident, though elsewhere migratory and nomadic. Eastern populations and across central Asia leave breading areas between September to October to winter in Middle East, northeast Africa and southwards to Kenya and Tanzania.
Wintering During winter moving to Afrotropical and Indomalayan areas.
Habitat: open and dry country with cliffs and scattered trees, favours forest-steppe, steppe, subdesert, plains, grassland.
Behaviour of the Saker Falcon
Diurnal. In flight only slow beats of wings. Very good at gliding, using thermals to soar high. Hunting flight very low over ground, treetops or from a hide. Slow search flight, can also switch into fast dive immediately when in search flight at higher altitudes.
Field Characteristics of the Saker Falcon
Can be confused with Lanner falcon. The Saker is a medium-large to large falcon, powerful in flight. It is a little smaller than the larger Gyrfalcon but much lighter in weight. Brown above, pale head. Head is relatively small. Moustachial narrow stripe. Whitish supercilia and streaked below. Broad chest but slender body. Long wings and tail. Typically perches in upright position. Tail projectoin.
Bill: blue-grey with black tip
Cere: adult = yellow; juvenile = yellowish
Legs and toes: adult = yellow; juvenile = blue-grey
Iris: dark brown
Measurements and Voice
♂ ca. 47 cm
♀ ca. 55 cm
Tail: 19-22 cm
♂: ca. 110 cm
♀: ca. 126 cm
♂ 700-900 g
♀ 970-1300 g
Voice: Mostly silent except when breeding. Voice sounds gruffer as with peregrine falcon, loud “kyak-kyak-kyak-kyak”.
Maturity: Mature in the second year.
Mating Season: Monogamous breeding pair, though because of ist loyalty to the breeding gound, relationships can last for several years.
Clutches per breeding season1 clutch
Breeding: In the west between mid March and to late June/JulyZwischen Mitte März und Anfang April, in the east between April to August
Nest: Does not build a nest, uses nests of other raptors, crows, herons and even stork nests. Nest usually sits in tree, also on cliff ledges or on rock crags. At times, there are 2-3 nest sites per breeding ground.
Clutch, Egg & Measurements
Clutch: (rarely 2-) 3-5 (maxi. -6) eggs
Eggs: broad oval eggs, yellowish shell; mostly covered with brown to red-brown stains. Breitovale Eier mit gelblicher Schale, die überwiegend braun bis rotbraun gefleckt sind.
Length: 50.1-58.7 mm
Width: 38.8-44.9 mm; Ø: 53.7×41.1 mm (n=61)
Shell weight: 3.81-5.51 g; Ø: 4.75 g (n=160)
Egg weight: 44.96-54.15 g
Laying, Incubation, Fledging to Dependency
Recurrent clutch: possibly but rare; mostly when clutch is lost the Sakers give up breeding.
Begin of Incubating: after third egg.
Incubation: 36-38 days per egg; it is mostly the ♀ incubating, while being fed by the ♂, which also keeps watch over clutch and ♀. The only time when the ♀ takes over incubating is when the ♀ is feeding.
Hatching: All chicken hatch within a couple of days.
Fledging: The chicken are being huddled by ♀ while ♂ brings food to the nest. Only after the end of the third week, both parents share the task of hunting and feeding the chicken. Fledging after 48-50 days
Dependency: After fledging the immatures will be cared for by parent for another 54-6 weeks.
Food: During breeding mostly small mammals (rodents, logomorphs); birds, reptiles, few insects, only rarely amphibians.
Longevity: In captivity Saker can reach 23 years of age.
Mortality: According to studies in Kazakstan, the yearly survical rate is about 82%.
Threats: Especially in the eastern range, the largest threat to the Saker is that eggs and chicken are freely taken from nests by people. Another threat are collisions with power lines.
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Bruun/Singer/König/Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck’sche Verlagshandlung Stuttgart, 5. Auflage 1982
Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston New York, 2001
Ferguson-Lees, James, Christie, David, Raptors of the World, A Field Guide, Christopher Helm London, 2005, reprinted 2019
Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 4, Falconiformes, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 2. durchgesehene Auflage 1989
Mebs, Theodor (†), Schmidt, Daniel, Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens, Franck-Kosmos Verlag Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2014
Svenson, Lars et. al, Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck-Kosmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2011
Svenson, Lars, et al, Collins Bird Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, Harper Collins, 2019, 2nd edition
German Falconry Assiciation – Deutscher Falkenorden link
Raptor Bird Station Hellenthal link
Featured Image of Saker Falcon: by ©Raymond Loyal
Post Images of the Saker Falcon: by ©Raymond Loyal
Egg of the Saker Falcon – source: Von Didier Descouens – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17000301
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