Saker Falcon study. Crimea 2008

The Central Laboratory of General Ecology – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences started a Saker Falcon research and conservation program in 2006. The project is named «Saker Falcon in Southeast Europe – Research and Conservation». In the frame of this program an international network from organizations and researchers was established – Southeast European Saker Network (SESN); eight countries participate in this network at the moment i.e., Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine. The aim of this network is to coordinate efforts for Saker Falcon study and protection in the Southeast European region. The Saker Falcon is listed by IUCN as a globally threatened species, and it requires urgent and joint measures for stopping and reversing its declining population trend.

Last SESN studies are connected with identification of different populations of the Saker Falcon using DNA and stable-isotope markers. It will enable to determine of the origin of birds taken from the wild for use in falconry. Furthermore, by comparison with museum specimens, it will enable to determine genetic similarity of current and historical populations of Sakers in Southeast Europe, which will determine possible parental stock for any potential reintroduction project. For this reason feather samples are collected from juvenile birds from the different parts of the species’ breeding distribution range.

The Ukrainian Saker population is the biggest and most important in Europe. There is no genetic information available for the Ukrainian Sakers and our intention is to fill this gap in knowledge.

During 20-28 May 2008 the joint expedition executed studies on the Crimean Peninsula. The participants of the expedition were V. Vetrov, S. Domashevsky, Y. Milobog and V. Strigunov – researchers of the Ukrainian Centre for Research of Birds of Prey (UCRBP) in cooperation with Dimitar Ragyov (Bulgaria) and Andrew Dixon (United Kingdom) – researches of the Southeast European Saker Network (SESN). The aim of the expedition was to collect feathers of Saker’s chicks for further DNA analysis. For investigation there were chosen rocky precipices with already known nesting sites of the Saker or rocks with birds recorded during their breeding season. The study area included foothills and a part of the steppe zone. In addition to collection of samples participants of the expedition also collected material on the Saker’s diet (pellets, feathers of their preys) in nests and under them, and on roost sites of adult birds. All the collected materials will be comprehensively processed in laboratory.

Works on breeding sites of the Saker started from the territory of Bagerovsky Polygon on Kerchensky Peninsula. Having completed the investigation of Kerchensky Peninsula the expedition went to the west. After visiting 8 districts of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea the expedition was finished on Tarkhankut Peninsula – the westernmost part of the Crimea.

On rocks there were investigated 25 breeding sites of the Saker, in 9 of them inhabited nests were discovered. On power lines 7 breeding sites were studies, of them only 2 was successful. One nest was in an artificial box, constructed on a power line pole by researchers of the Centre within conservation project carried out in 2006 by Ukrainian Union for Protection of Birds.

In the place where the power line was reconstructed and a part of poles was demounted (metal poles were substituted with concrete posts), three pairs of Sakers disappeared, though they successfully bred in 2004.

It was recorded an unusual case of incubation. The Saker female incubated a clutch of the Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) in a Raven’s nest (Corvus corax) located on a metal pole of the power line.

In successful nests of the Saker there were registered 31 chicks (including fledglings). Sakers had from 1 to 5 chicks, in average 2.8 chicks per nest (n=9). In investigated nests there were 8 females and 9 males. In two breeding sites two well-flying fledglings were observed – in Opuksky Reserve and Tarkhankut Peninsula, 1 and 5 chicks respectively.

Samples were taken from 17 Saker chicks in nests using climbing equipment for steep rocks.

The age of Saker chicks in nests was from 20 to 45 days.

In the Saker’s diet there were registered: Garganey (Anas querquedula), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Quail (Coturnix coturnix), Partridge (Perdix perdix), Corncrake (Crex crex), Little Gull (Larus minutus), Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus), Roller (Coracias garrulus), House Martin (Delichon urbica), Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris), Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus), (Passerinum sp.), great quantity of Little Souslik (Citellus pygmaeus) and small rodents.

Participants of the expedition registered 17 species of birds of prey. Among rare species there were observed: Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) – 11 registrations, three nests were found on rocks and 1 in a tree; Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) – 1 registration; Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) – 4 registrations (3 birds in a transitory plumage); Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) – 1 individual; Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) – 4 registrations; Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) – 20 observations; Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) – 4 registrations. Among nocturnal birds of prey 5 species were recorded: Long-eared Owl (Asio otus), Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), Scops Owl (Otus scops), Little Owl (Athene noctua) and Tawny Owl (Strix aluco).

An interesting meeting of the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) was recorded. An adult bird of Egyptian Vulture was recorded in a group of Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) flying near the city of Bakchisaray.

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