Romanian Saker breeds in the Crimea
Satellite-tracking revealed a long-suspected genetic relationship between Central European and Eastern European Saker Falcon population. The finding gives new perspective for the conservation of the species.
Thea, a female Saker Falcon hatched in West Romania in 2012. She was one of the chicks of a new pair in the Romania - Serbia - Hungary border area discovered only in that year. Just before fledging conservation experts from Milvus Group (Romania), Bükk National Park Directorate (Hungary) and MME / BirdLife Hungary with an active support from Transelectrica, mounted a satellite-received transmitter on her in order to follow her routes later on to gain information for a more efficient conservation of the species. The action was part of the second Saker Falcon conservation LIFE-Nature (LIFE09 NAT/H/000384) project that is steered by Bükk National Park Directorate and involves conservation organisations from Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Thea did not stay long around the nest: in just about a month after fledging she was already in Eastern European steppes. She spent the summer in Russia, in a mosaic of natural steppes and agricultural area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. In the autumn, she migrated about 800 km southwest and she spent the winter in the Crimea. She has not gone far in spring as the signals of the satellite-tracking device indicated. In mid-March the locations of the bird started to focus on one specific spot, but data suggested that Thea was alright, nothing wrong happened - it was something else in the air. Finally, Yuri Milobog (Ukrainian Birds of Prey Research Centre) controlled the area and confirmed that Thea had three eggs in the nest.
It is the first record that a Saker Falcon may start to breed in a disjunct population, 1200 km away from the fledging site. (Sakers and birds of prey in general tend to choose a territory in the region of fledging.) In spite of ringing more than 2500 Saker Falcons and satellite tracking a few dozens of them in Central Europe, in the last decades, there has been no record of such incident, even though ring recoveries and tracking revealed that Central European immature birds regularly visit the Eastern European steppes.
The species is globally endangered and its population is decreasing throughout its range except for Central Europe, where it is increasing slightly and Ukraine, where the population seems to be stable. However, this area counts only less than 10% of the global population. Electrocution, poisoning, shooting, trapping, habitat loss - they are the main factors threatening the survival of Sakers.
The case of Thea gives hope that strengthening certain populations may have a positive impact on populations in worse condition. For the real success, however, threats in all areas should be eliminated or decreased significantly.