Saker falcon

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Saker falcon
Saker falcon (Falco cherrug)

Saker falcon ( Falco cherrug )

Class : Birds (aves)
Order : Falk-like (falconiformes)
Family : Falconies (Falconidae)
Subfamily : True falcon (Falconinae)
Genre : Falcon ( falco )
Type : Saker falcon
Scientific name
Falco cherrug
Gray , 1834
  • Falco cherrug cherrug
  • Falco cherrug milvipes

The sucker falcon ( Falco cherrug ), also saker falcon or saker is a large falcon of the steppes and forest-steppe areas of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Its westernmost occurrences are in Austria and Hungary, to the east the large distribution area of ​​this species extends to the east of Mongolia . Occasionally the species brooded and breeds in Germany.

The sucker falcon is one of the largest and heaviest species within the subfamily of real falcons. The species prefers open steppe landscapes as a breeding area, where it nests in abandoned nests of other birds of prey or of ravens and crows , or on the ground or on rocky outcrops. Sucker falcons are opportunistic hunters. They mainly prey on different rodents and birds from thrush size . The often postulated dependence of the species on the occurrence of different ground squirrel species does not exist. Most of the populations of this species of falcon are migratory birds . Only the breeding birds in the extreme south of the distribution area and individual birds from the westernmost breeding areas are resident birds .

In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, when this species brooded regularly in Germany, it was called saker or blue-footed because the feet of young birds have a bluish tinge until they are one year old. The designation Würgfalke, which is valid today as a German name, goes back to Johann Andreas Naumann , who translated the then valid epithet lanarius based on Lanius = strangler with gag . The word saker has Arabic roots: but çaqr means the sparrowhawk .

The systematic position of this species is complicated. Apparently all four great falcons - Lanner falcon , gyrfalcon , laggar falcon and sucker falcon - descended from a common species that was native to Africa. From there the adaptive radiation took place . It began very late in evolutionary history and took place in several waves. This explains the very great genetic proximity that exists between these falcon species. Together they form the super species Hierofalco . Up to four subspecies have been described of the sucker falcon. However, apart from the nominate form, only Falco cherrug milvipes from the easternmost part of the distribution area is widely recognized.

According to the IUCN , the total population is a maximum of almost 30,000 adult individuals and the species is classified as endangered . Especially in the last 4–5 species generations (= 6.4 years each), a dramatic decline in populations began in the core areas of occurrence in Inner Asia, especially in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, which reduced the populations by over 50%. While these population losses continue in Inner Asia, the species recorded slight population increases in the westernmost breeding areas, which, however, are of no consequence for the critical global population situation. In addition to habitat destruction through the conversion of steppe areas into agricultural areas and the associated food shortage, the catching of wild birds or the illegal removal of eggs and nestlings from sucker falcons is still a major source of danger. Together with the gyrfalcon, the saker falcon is one of the most popular hunting falcons in the Middle East . The hybrid breeds, which are widespread in falconry circles, harbor a further, considerable potential risk.


Saker falcon

The saker falcon is about 46 to 58 centimeters tall, compact, strongly built and has a wingspan of about 104 to 129 centimeters. The wings are long, broad and pointed, dark brown on top, lightly spotted and banded. The top of the tail is light brown. The cream-colored light head, which stands out from the dark upper side, is characteristic. The underside is cream-colored, in the female more and in the male less dark brown spotted and banded. The females are considerably larger and heavier than the males. In Central Europe the species can be easily identified by field ornithology, but in areas where the Lanner falcon ( Falco biarmicus feldeggi ) occurs, for example in the south-eastern Balkans , there is a considerable risk of confusion.

The migration strategies of the saker falcon are very different in its entire range. The European populations remain in the breeding area with favorable food conditions, otherwise they spread to the eastern Mediterranean area or further south to East Africa.


A somewhat rough leaning and cackling can be heard relatively rarely - except at the breeding site.


Distribution of the saker falcon:
  • Breeding areas
  • Year-round occurrence
  • migration
  • Wintering areas
  • The distribution area of ​​the saker falcon are the forest steppe and steppe zones from southeast Central Europe to northwest China. The southern limit of distribution runs through Turkey and Iran to the Himalayas. The northern limit of distribution is about 56 degrees north of latitude.

    In Russia and Ukraine, the species is a long-distance migrant. On the western edge of its area, the saker falcon can also be found in the winter months near its breeding grounds.

    Inventory and inventory development

    The saker falcon is one of the world's most endangered birds of prey. Above all, the inner-Asian populations now also seem to collapse, while the European populations are recovering slightly and there is even a slight expansion of the area. Nevertheless, there will hardly be more than 700 breeding pairs of saker falcons in Europe - that means a decrease of over 90% compared to the 19th century. According to data from 2003, the IUCN estimates the world population of saker falcons to be 3,600 to 4,400 breeding pairs. The species is classified as "critically endangered".

    Good and partially expanding occurrences are particularly evident in Hungary with around 120 pairs and in Ukraine with around 100 pairs. The positive development of the stocks in Hungary is mainly due to intensive protective measures. More than 30% of the young birds grow up in artificial nests and the clumps are monitored. In addition, the species seems to have successfully switched to domestic pigeons as a substitute food after the ground squirrel had largely disappeared in Central Europe.

    In 1997 and 1998, a pair of saker falcons brooded in the German part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains , but there was no lasting breeding success.

    Between 1975 and 2015, 27,185 saker falcons were exported to other countries with legal Cites papers. Austria exported 1,014 and Germany 2,698 falcons. Other countries with significant exports of live Saker were Kazakhstan with 1,180, Kuwait with 1,334, Mongolia with 3,501, Pakistan with 4,369, Russia with 2,790, Saudi Arabia with 3,245 and the United Arab Emirates with 1,983. Despite, according to recent estimates, 28,000 breeding pairs in the world, the population has been falling steadily since 1993. There has been a Global Action Plan for the saker falcon since 2014 . In the Global Action Plan, the installation of 1,000 nest platforms and the construction or conversion of 1 million bird-safe power poles were planned. But because of the constant export of sakers, including many caught wild birds, especially from Central Asia, the population continues to decline.


    The food of Saker is during the breeding phase mainly composed of small mammals such as ground squirrels as well as during the turn and wintering from birds to ducks size.


    Egg of a saker falcon

    Saker falcons, like all falcons, do not build nests. Saker falcons use large branch nests of other bird species on trees or in rock walls and rock niches to lay their eggs, depending on their habitat, and ground broods also occur. The species also likes to accept art nests. Recently, nests on overhead line masts are increasingly being used for breeding. The saker falcon is very fond of shouting at the breeding ground. The clutch comprises two to six eggs , most of which are incubated by the female for around 30 days. For the first 18 days or so, the young are fed exclusively by the female, while the male carries the prey. The nestling period lasts around 50 days, and the young birds become independent 30 to 45 days after they have fled their homes.

    Names and derivation of names

    In the falcon book of Emperor Friedrich II , De arte venandi cum avibus , the sucker falcon appears in an Arabic name Saker (derived from çaqr, but means sparrowhawk), which is not surprising in view of the Saracen surroundings of the last emperor from the Staufer dynasty. In early modern sources, the species is usually strictly separated from falcons, sparrows and hawks as blue-footed . Probably the only reliable and quickly recognizable color difference between peregrine falcon and sucker falcon nestlings was named here. Until the end of the first year of life, the feet of the sucker falcon are blue-green in color, while those of the peregrine falcon are always yellowish. It was not until the late 18th century that the name Würgfalke came up. It became naturalized through the then valid scientific name of the species Falco lanarius . Lanarius is derived from the Latin verb laniare , which means something like mangle, tear, choke (compare the genus Lanius = strangler ). This name prevailed to a large extent in the avifaunistic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. Apart from the fact that he assumes particularly aggressive behavior of the species, he is also wrong in that Saker - like all other hawks - are bis-killers and not grip killers. Nevertheless, Würgfalke is the valid German name of the species. The epithet cherrug is a transcription of the Persian -or. Hindi name of this kind.


    Descent Falken.png

    The systematic classification of the saker falcon is still unclear and is the subject of research. It has long been known in falconry circles that the four great falcons Gyrfalcon, Lannerfalke, Laggar falcon and sucker falcon crossed with each other. These four species cannot be distinguished from one another in terms of molecular genetics. These are morpho species that have so far hardly differentiated genetically, but only developed morphological characteristics. Its original species, a species very closely related to today's Lanner falcon, most likely lived in Africa, from where it spread to Asia in several waves. These waves of propagation occurred in a very recent evolutionary period, the last, which mainly affected the later sucker falcon, about 34,000 years ago. The colonization of parts of Eastern and Southeastern Europe finally took place from Asia. Because of the extremely close relationship, a union in a superspecies Hierofalco is proposed for these four forms . The Hierofalco are genetically clearly separated from the group of peregrine falcons (e.g. Falco peregrinus , Falco pelegrinoides and also Falco mexicanus ) .

    In their habitat there is an extensive contact zone between the breeding areas of the sucker falcon and the laggar falcon along the main Himalayan ridge. As far as is known so far, there are no mixed breeds in this area.

    Phenotypically, the sucker falcon appears in different color nuances, which have led to the fact that up to 13 subspecies have been described. In general, the birds become too lighter towards the east and the drawing on the underside appears increasingly contrasting.

    The revised 2019 version of the Handbook of the Birds of the World indicates 4 subspecies. Of these four subspecies, the validity of the last two is very controversial and even F. c. milvipes is considered by some experts to be a clinical variation of the nominate form.

    What is unclear is the position of a particularly high-contrast color variant that occurs particularly frequently in the Altai region. It became known as the Altai falcon and was often even ranked as a species. According to current research, it is considered a coloring variant of F. c. milvipes .


    • Peter H. Barthel: Between open air and law - the sucker falcon (Falco cherrug) as a native bird species In: Limicola 25 (2011): 284-316
    • Hans-Günther Bauer, Einhard Bezzel , Wolfgang Fiedler (eds.): The compendium of birds in Central Europe: Everything about biology, endangerment and protection. Volume 1: Nonpasseriformes - non-sparrow birds. Aula-Verlag Wiebelsheim, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-89104-647-2 .
    • Benny Génsbol, Walther Thiede: Birds of prey - All European species, identifiers, flight images , biology, distribution, endangerment, population development. BLV Verlag, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-405-14386-1 .
    • James Ferguson, David A. Christie: Raptors of the World. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2001, ISBN 0-618-12762-3 , pp. 903-911.
    • Handbook of the birds of Central Europe . Vol. 4 Falconiformes, Aula-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1989 (2nd edition), ISBN 3-89104-460-7 , pp. 824-876.
    • Theodor Mebs , Daniel Schmidt: The birds of prey in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Biology, characteristics, stocks. Franckh-Kosmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-440-09585-1 , pp. 433-452.
    • Hans-Günther Bauer, Peter Berthold : The breeding birds of Central Europe. Existence and endangerment. Aula, Wiesbaden 1998, ISBN 3-89104-613-8 , p. 125.
    • Mark Beaman, Steven Madge: Handbook of Bird Identification. Europe and Western Palearctic. Ulmer-Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-8001-3471-3 , pp. 210-212, 249-251.
    • Wolfgang Baumgart: The Saker Falcon. Neue Brehm Bücherei 514. Ziemsen Verlag, Wittenberg 1991³, ISSN  0138-1423 .
    • Kovács, A., Williams, NP and Galbraith, CA 2014: Saker Falcon Falco cherrug Global Action Plan (SakerGAP), including a management and monitoring system, to conserve the species. Raptors MOU Technical Publication No. 2. CMS Technical Series No. 31. Coordinating Unit - CMS Raptors MOU, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. pdf engl.
    • F. Nittinger, E. Haring, W. Pinsker, M. Wink, A. Gamauf: Out of Africa? Phylogenetic relationships between Falco biarmicus and the other hierofalcons. (Aves: Falconidae). In: Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research. Volume 43, No. 4, Nov. 2005, Blackwell Publishing Oxford, ISSN  0947-5745 , pp. 321-331.
    • Viktor Wember: The names of the birds of Europe. Meaning of the German and scientific names. Aula-Wiebelsheim 2005, ISBN 3-89104-678-2 , p. 68.
    • Paul B. Stretesky, Ruth E. McKie, Michael J. Lynch, Michael A. Long, Kimberly L. Barrett: Where have all the falcons gone? Saker falcon (falco cherrug) exports in a global economy. Global Ecology and Conservation, Volume 13, January 2018, [1]


    1. Peter Barthel: Between Freiland and Law, p. 292f.
    2. a b c Orta, J., Boesman, P., Sharpe, CJ & Marks, JS (2019). Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, DA & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on July 13, 2019).
    3. Peter H. Barthel: Between Freiland and Law - The sucker falcon (Falco cherrug) as a native bird species In: Limicola 25 (2011): 284-316; P. 286
    4. a b c Nittinger et al. : Out of Africa
    5. a b Peter Barthel: Between Freiland and Law, p. 289
    6. IUCN. BirdLife International 2017. Falco cherrug (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22696495A110525916. . Downloaded on July 13, 2019.
    7. Saker Falcon Falco cherrug Global Action Plan (2014) p. 32ff
    8. Walter Thiede: Birds of prey and owls - recognize and determine all species of Central Europe. BLV Buchverlag, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-8354-0448-9 , p. 66.
    9. Peter Barthel: Between Freiland and Law, p. 312
    10. a b Bauer et al., P. 368
    11. [Saker Falcon Falco cherrug Global Action Plan (SakerGAP) ]
    12. Paul B. Stretesky, Ruth E. McKie, Michael J. Lynch, Michael A. Long, Kimberly L. Barrett: Where have all the falcons gone? Saker falcon (falco cherrug) exports in a global economy. Global Ecology and Conservation, Volume 13, January 2018.
    13. ^ Eugene McCarthy: Handbook of Avian Hybrids. Oxford University Press 2006; P. 185
    14. ^ Saker Falcon Falco cherrug Global Action Plan (2014) p. 20
    15. Raptors of the World (2001) pp. 906ff

    Web links

    Commons : Saker Falcon  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files