The Saker Falcon is the 2nd largest species of falcon on earth. Only rhe Gyr Falcon surpasses it in size. This Falcon is the favorite falcon of Traditional Arabec Falconry. The species part of its scientific name, cherrug, is derived from the Hindi name charg, which pertains to a female Saker falcon. The male of this species is called a Sakeret, which is derived from the Middle English sacret, from Middle French, diminutive of sacre (the male being smaller than the female) The common name Saker is derived from an Arabic word (pronounced saqr) meaning "falcon".
Largest of the hierofalcon subgenus of falcons, the Saker falcon is 47 to 55 cm (19 to 22 inches) in length. The Saker's wingspan is 105 to 129 cm (41 to 51 inches). The shape of its wings is very similar to those of the Gyrfalcon, being a bit broader and shorter in proportion when compared to those of other large falcon species. At a glance, this species is easily confused with the Lanner falcon, as its coloration closely resembles that of the Lanner.
The Sakers wing coverts are a warm brown, with each feather edged being a lighter shade of yellowish brown. The flight feathers are a dark grey. The breast is white with rich brown, vertical to diamond shaped center portions to each feather. These darker markings becoming larger the further down the birds breast that they are. The head has a warm brown helmet like pattern to it, that is a distinctly paler buff shade at the crown. There is a pair of pale off white streaks that extend from the nares over the superorbital region of each eye to the nape of the neck where they blend in with the darker plumage. The malar stripe is very distinct and is diagonal, pointing parallel to the spine of the bird. It is not as obvious as it is in the Lanner falcon.
This species belongs to the close-knit hierofalcon subgenus. There is frequent hybridization within this group of falcons. This confounds the analyses of DNA sequencing. Thus, this entire group of falcon species has a lineage which is still something of a mystery to modern science. The adaptive radiation of the hierofalcons seems to have taken place during the Eemian interglacial period. This was at the start of the Late Pleistocene, which was between 130,000 and 115,000 years ago.
What is known is that the Saker Falcon desends from a lineage that expanded out of northeastern Africa and into the interior of southeastern Europe and Asia, much like mankind did in a different time frame.
Saker Falcons are primarily desert and steppe falcons. Therefore, it prefers open country such as grasslands, with a few trees and cliffs. This species breeds from eastern Europe, and eastward across Asia in parts of Southern Russia, to as far as Manchuria. Northern populations are migratory. The majority of this species wild population overwinters in Ethiopia, as well as the Arabian peninsula and northern Pakistan. It is native year around in parts of the Middle East, with a band of sedentary population being found westward across the Middle East towards south central Russia.
This falcon hunts by chasing down its aerial prey in a prolonged horizontal pursuit that can cover a large distance as it waits for its prey to tire before making the kill. Although it primarily feeds upon other birds, it will also catch some ground quarry, such as ground squirrels. In areas closer to human habitation, pigeons are a common prey item. In Arabic Falconry, the Houbara Bustard is a favorite prey species for the Saker falcon.
This falcon is a cliff nesting species and prefers clif ledges whenever they are available. It is somewhat more adaptible to using other less suitable nesting sites when there are no cliff ledges available. It has been known to even utilize the old stick nests of other large birds, such as ravens, storks, or soaring hawks (Buteos).
At the Centre we have found that the Saker Falcon breeds readily, but it is excitable and therefore a very easily prevented from nesting unless disturbances are kept to a minimum.
This species is experiencing a rapid population decline, particularly on the central Asian breeding grounds. Sakers also face pressure from habitat loss brought on by the expansion of human habitation. In 2004, the wild Saker falcon population was estimated to be between 7,200 and 8,800 mature birds.
There are several captive breeding projects in the United States. There are currently several successful breeding projects by falconers here in Canada including the Centre's own captive breeding program for this species. Much hard work is yet to be done to prevent this majestic falcon's numbers from plunging too low in the wild.
The largest decline of the Saker falcon in Asia is in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. However, wild populations are doing well in Hungary. It is known as Turul in Hungarian mythology, and was chosen as the national bird there.
Ominously, Saker falcons are known to be very susceptible to avian influenza! A few Saker falcons been found infected with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain in Saudi Arabia, as well as with the H7N7 strain in Italy. They have almost no resistance to this virus and quickly perish.
Fortunately, successful research indicates that Saker falcons can be protected from bird flu by vaccination, at least in captivity.
If you have found an injured bird of prey (hawk, falcon, owl, etc.), contact the Centre and our experienced staff can assist in determining what steps should be taken to ensure the bird receives the best possible care.
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