Saving the Saker falcon in Bulgaria

The overall objective of this urgent national project is to prevent the extinction of the saker falcon as a breeding species in Bulgaria. It is also aiming to reverse a 90 per cent decline over the last 10 years due to nest robbery for illegal international trade in falcons and critical habitat loss.

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Internationally, the saker falcon (Falco cherrug) is recognised under all major conventions as being a Globally Threatened Species of special conservation concern. Saker falcons have declined significantly during the 20th century, especially in their ‘heartland’ in Central Asia. Between 1990 and 2003, the global population is estimated to have declined by 61 per cent (BirdLife International 2006).
Bulgaria is internationally important for the conservation of saker falcons for two reasons. Firstly, although it has only 10 breeding pairs, it currently supports the fourth most important breeding population in the EU (after Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic). However, the Bulgarian population of saker falcons has declined by 90 per cent in the last 10 years, primarily due to illegal taking of eggs and chicks for the international falconry trade and habitat loss. In stark contrast, other important populations have increased during the last 10 years due to direct conservation action. There has been a 75 per cent increase in Hungary, a 30 per cent increase in the Czech Republic and a 20 per cent increase in Slovakia (BirdLife International 2006).     
Secondly, Bulgaria forms a key part of the land bridge between Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, which gives it major importance for migrant populations of more than a dozen Globally Threatened Species, including the saker falcon. Significant numbers of saker falcons migrate through Bulgaria each year, especially from another key population in Ukraine.
The overall objective of this national campaign is to prevent the extinction of the saker falcon as a breeding species in Bulgaria. This project incorporates a series of discrete contributing objectives and activities that are all identified as high priority activities in both the European and National Saker Falcon Action Plans.


Contributing objectives in 2009 – 2010 to improve the conservation status of the saker falcon in Bulgaria are to:

  • Expand the programme of identifying and actively protecting natural saker falcon nests.
  • Expand the programme of installing an additional 100 metal and 100 wooden artificial nests at protected priority locations.
  • Continue developing and subsequently use the saker falcon DNA fingerprinting protocol.
  • Strengthen the state and local authorities to enforce the EU and Bulgarian conservation legislation to ensure active management of all Natura 2000 sites which support saker falcons.
  • Increase the capacity of BSPB to sustain their saker falcon conservation efforts beyond 2010.
  • Enhance the project cooperation and participation of all key interest groups, in support of saker falcon conservation.
  • Increase awareness amongst key interest groups by communicating the importance and value of this work.
  • Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the 2008 project activities.

Key Dates

  • January 2008 - Project started.
  • March 2008 - BSPB saker experts visited BirdLife Hungary in for intensive information exchange and to learn about the very successful experience.
  • November 2008 - Requested submission of project proposal for extension until 2010.
  • November 2008 - EC Life+ project to conserve imperial eagles and saker falcons in central and southern Bulgaria confirmed for BSPB.
  • December 2008 - BBC Wildlife Fund project funding extended.
  • Project completion date: December 2010.

Planned Work

This project is now well established, having met all its 2008 objectives and completed all these activities, which triggered the exciting extension of support from the BBC Wildlife Fund until 2010. The next phase of activity includes the installation of additional metal and wooden artificial nests in key project areas, further field studies to increase knowledge available on key saker falcon territories, and concluding the negotiations to implement a DNA fingerprinting protocol for all captive saker falcons in Bulgaria, under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment & Water. Two new objectives are to identify key feeding and nesting areas for purchase, and the designation of new national protected areas under existing national legislation. 
This project is fully integrated with the BSPB’s Life+ project to conserve Imperial eagles and saker falcons in central and southern Bulgaria. This €2 million, five-year project is the first project of its kind to be supported in Bulgaria and in combination creates a powerful national programme of work to conserve one of the world’s most charismatic threatened species.
An unexpected new development was the arrival of two satellite-tagged juvenile saker falcon that were tagged in Hungary that spent time in Bulgaria in areas not previously know to support saker falcons. This is informing BSPB’s 2009 and 2010 work programme.


  • The Bulgarian government included all 114 IBAs proposed by BSPB as ‘Special Protection Areas’ in the official list of EU Natura 2000 sites as, including all 15 saker falcon sites. This in itself is a major conservation achievement. After this initial step, BSPB prepared and officially submitted 114 written statements to the government proposing amendments to the local designation orders which represent the next consultative stage of the process. Twenty-nine (29) of the designation statements include recommendations related to saker falcons. 15 for recent saker falcons observations and 14 others for preserving the species’ former breeding sites.
  • Fifty-two (52) metal artificial nest platforms have been installed in high voltage (400 kV) power lines and other electricity pylons. This process has been undertaking after formal agreement was reached with the National Electric Company (NEC) on the design, procedure, training requirements and focal areas for installation.
  • Forty-five (45) artificial wooden nests using the new designs created for the project have been installed on suitable mature oak trees, close to the sites where satellite-tagged juvenile saker falcon from Hungary was recorded). Plans are well advanced for the installation of the remaining 46 wooden nest boxes.
  • Rock nesting sites have been inspected in seventeen areas. The permanent presence of saker falcon pairs was established in two sites and a third pair was observed at another potential breeding site. At five other sites single records of saker falcons were collected.  Analysis of the breeding conditions and existence of previous observations of the species in those regions reinforces the existence of minimum six to seven breeding territories and at least two nesting pairs - the same numbers as estimated in 2007.
  • BSPB are in official consultation with the Minister of Environment & Water, which has started the formal procedure to establish the DNA fingerprinting protocol in Republic of Bulgaria. This protocol is being developed in consultation with government research institutes and DNA laboratories and in consultation with international experts in molecular biologists identified the precise methodology and appropriate procedures.
  • BSPB have developed and maintain a national saker falcon database and are developing cooperation for an inter-NGO database based on common agreement on conservation rules during research and conservation work on this endangered species. BSPB also proposed to the other NGOs a specific template for a common database on birds of prey related legal offences.
  • BSPB saker experts visited BirdLife Hungary in March 2008 for intensive information exchange and to learn about the very successful experience of the saker falcon conservation work in the Carpathian Basin that resulted in a 75 per cent increase over the last 10 years.



The total budget is £60,000, funded by BBC Wildlife Fund, with additional voluntary technical support provided by the two partners.


Coast on a stormy day

Mark Day

Head of Partner Development Unit, Europe, Middle East and Central Asia

Further reading

Tagged with: Country: Bulgaria Country: International Project status: Complete Project types: Advocacy Project types: Organisation development Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection