Saker Falcon Research and Conservation

The Saker Falcon Falco cherrug has been a popular bird of prey in Arabian falconry tradition for centuries because they are excellent hunters and well adapted to arid environments. Today there is a significant demand for Saker Falcons in the Middle East, which is largely met by international trade. Although there are several factors that threaten the wild Saker falcon population in range countries, the illegal harvest and the trapping for falconry is considered to be one of the most significant. Because of illegal trapping, breeding populations of Saker Falcons in parts of Central Asia have gone under severe declines and some are facing local extinction.

The Mongolian trade in Saker Falcons has existed since the mid 1990's, with the majority of wild-caught birds being exported to Arab states for falconry. Despite population declines elsewhere in the breeding range, Mongolia remains one of the few countries still supporting significant wild population. The Mongolian government officially exports Saker Falcons each year based on an agreed quota. However, over the years the scientific basis for this quota was unclear and the trade has been subject to review and suspension by CITES Convention because the Mongolian government has not been able to demonstrate that its export quotas did not have a detrimental impact on the Saker Falcon population.

The main objective of our research activities in Mongolia is to monitor the wild population and develop a science-based conservation model for sustainable use of wild Saker Falcons that meets CITES criteria. The underlying principle of conservation through sustainable use of wildlife resources is that there is no detrimental impact on the population being harvested. Furthermore, the concept also requires that the harvest benefits the local community so that there is a local incentive to conserve the species through sustainable use.

We have established two monitoring sites which comprise a natural nesting site in hills and open steppe area with artificial nests; Eej Khad and Bayan, respectively. Our researchers collect data on Saker Falcon breeding biology from these areas, which provide important information for population monitoring. In addition, we collect ecological data on diet, foraging ranges, nesting habitat, prey availability, survival and growth of chicks, and migration of Saker Falcons.

There is an existing non-breeding population of adult Saker Falcons in nest-site limited areas in the steppe region. These non-breeders can be encouraged to breed by providing artificial nests, and so increase the size of the breeding population in these areas. Our experimental project has tested whether artificial nests can be used to increase the breeding population of Saker Falcons in nest-site limited habitats and to develop a system whereby the productivity of these nests can be used to set a sustainable harvest quota.

The result was very promising with 12% of the artificial nests occupied by Sakers Falcons three years after construction and, overall, 95% of the nests were occupied by one of four species i.e., Saker Falcon, Common Kestrel, Upland Buzzard and Raven. The study has shown that the principle can work if the government of Mongolia establishes a robust system to manage and support the model.

The findings of the research program were discussed with the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism in Mongolia and it was decided that artificial nests could form the basis of a sustainable harvest of Saker Falcons in Mongolia. An important next step is to extend the artificial nest grids over a wider area in order to establish a sustainable harvesting system for Saker Falcons. The project now is aiming to establish a system of grids with 5000 artificial nests in 2010 with the funding support from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.

Project implementing parties presented the current development of the new scheme to a specialist meeting on the Saker Falcon, convened following a resolution at the 6th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which was held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 5-7 April 2009 (click here) and to the 58th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (known as CITES) which was held in Geneva, Switzerland, 6-10 July 2009 (click here). The CITES Secretariat noted that the program being developed in Mongolia for the conservation and sustainable use of this species is an interesting and innovative one. The project has also been exhibited as an example of conservation through sustainable use at the 15th Conference of the Parties to CITES in Doha, Qatar (13-25 March 2010) (click here).

On this project we are partnering with the International Wildlife Consultants Ltd from UK under a research agreement signed between Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi, UAE and the Ministry of Nature and Environment of Mongolia on 25th November 2007.

Download articles on the project development:

Dixon, A. 2009. Saker Falcon breeding population estimates. Part 2: Asia. Falco 33, 4-10. [pdf]

Dixon, A., Batbayar, N., Etheridge, M., Gankhuyag, P-O. and Gombobaatar, S. 2008. Development of the Artificial Nest Project in Mongolia. Falco 32, 8-10. [pdf]

Visit the artificial nest project website hosted by the Middle East Falcon Research Group.

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