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First ever project of Saker Falcon reintroduction in Russia has proved successful

05 september 2017
WWF announces the results of the first project in Russia on Saker falcon (Falco cherrug) reintroduction using the method that has never been implemented for this species of the birds of prey in Russia before.

This year the group of ornithologists tested the method of raising the eyasses (the chicks of Saker falcon) born in captivity in the nests of the wild pairs of Saker falcons. The Project was supported by Altai-Sayan Programme of WWF Russia and World Around You Foundation of the Siberian Health Corporation.

The area of Altai-Sayan Ecoregion was chosen for project implementation as one of the key habitats of Saker falcon in Russia. This June ten chicks of Saker falcon who were only 20 days old arrived to Southern Siberia by plane fr om Vitasphere, Moscow falcon breeding centre. Later the ornithologists took them by car to several regions of Altai-Sayan. All chicks were later placed into the nests of the several wild pairs of Saker falcons. All nests had been found and examined by the experts beforehand. They were either wild nests made by the birds or the artificial platforms made for the birds of prey to breed and settled by the wild pairs of birds. The ornithologists observed the behaviour of the “foster parents” using the specific cameras placed on the nests. The experts could download the video footage remotely and did not disturb the birds. In some areas wh ere the prey for birds was scarce (such as the region Republic of Altai with low population of pika and marmot) the experts had to put additionally food (chickens, mice etc) for the birds into the nests. Otherwise it would be hard for the wild birds to feed such a big family. 

Female saker Falcon near the nest
Saker falcon near its nest.
The birds are rung and healthy.
First ever saker falcon reintroduction project in Russia.
(c) I. Karyakin, A. Kuksin
Alexander Karnaukhov, Senior Coordinator, WWF Altai-Sayan Programme said: “This method proved successful for reintroduction of Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) in the USA, Great Britain, Germany and Poland, for Red kite (Milvus milvus) in England, Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in Scotland. But this approach has never been tested in Russia before. Normally the ornithologists use hacking method when the chicks are being reared in closed boxes and do not have contacts with humans. Then the boxes are opened and the birds are released in the wild. The new approach helps the birds from captivity adapt to the wild nature easier as they are reared in the wild by wild birds”.

All chicks placed in the nests of the wild Saker Falcons this year were easily “adopted” by their foster parents. The pairs of birds did not react violently or notice the difference in colour or age of the native and “adopted” chicks. The pilot project of Saker Falcon reintroduction through placing the chicks into wild birds’ nests proved successful. 

Tracking a native female saker falcon
A reared chick with a ring.
The Saker falcon family.
One of the chicks with a tracker.
(c) I. Karyakin, A. Kuksin
Igor Karyakin, an ornithologist, the Project Leader, Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network, said: “The results are promising. The pilot project proved that we can raise up to six chicks including foster and native chicks in one nest. In the areas with poor prey it is essential to provide the birds with additional food. And we have to be careful choosing the nests. Other big beast and birds of prey living close to the nests have to be considered as they might attack the chicks”.

In summer when the chicks grew up the experts placed GPS trackers on one adoptive and two native birds to follow the routes of the birds. Unfortunately, one native chick with a tracker was attacked by a Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) and another tracker placed on an adoptive chick broke down. At the moment just one native bird with GPS tracker is safe and sound and it regularly sends the signals that the ornithologists follow.

In general, the pilot project on Saker falcon reintroduction through a new method of rearing the chicks from captivity in the nests of the wild birds proved successful. Ten chicks were placed into the nests of wild birds of prey and all of them were raised by the wild birds up to the moment the birds leave the nests. 

An Eagle-owl
(c) I. Karyakin, A. Kuksin

The number of Saker falcons in Russia has gone down dramatically since 2003: by 27% in Republic of Altai, 55% in Republic of Khakasia and 20% in Republic of Tyva (according to the statistics of Siberian Ecological Centre organization, Novosibirsk, Russia). Totally the numbers of the species went down by 26% for the period of 2003-2014. The new reintroduction method might be a new way to raising the genetic diversity of Saker falcon in Southern Siberia and eventually stabilize the population.

Headline photo: (c) WWF-Russia / Igor Karyakin.

For additional information please contact
Altai-Sayan ecoregional press-officer
Senior Project Coordinator