'Saker channel' launched

A new reality show has been launched in Hungary. The participants, however, are not human 'wannabe celebrities', but a pair of strictly protected Saker Falcon. Nevertheless, the reward in this case is not slight either. At the same time, the task of the parents is much more difficult, than for the players in a usual reality show: breeding five eggs, raising the chicks successfully and preparing them for the independent life. In addition, they have to look after the everyday food themselves – for the whole family. It is the first time in the world that everyone interested can follow the breeding of this rare, endangered species through 24 hours a day. The 'Saker channel' is available under the 'Webcam' menu point on the project website.

In the frame of Bükk National Park Directorate (BNPD) led international Saker conservation LIFE programme, experts of BNPD, MAVIR and MME/BirdLife Hungary have installed a web camera at a nest of a Saker pair. By observing the life of the pair nesting on a pylon of a high-voltage power line of MAVIR, the experts gather new informations in order to make the conservation programme more efficient. The camera and its accessories were installed in the beginning of March. The web cam, the solar panels and their accessories were installed by professionals, who wore special 'FAM' protecting clothes as the 400 kV power line were not switched off during the operation.

The falcons did not fly away, but they were watching closely the action from the nearby pylons. It was already on 8th March that we observed the first appearance of the male through the web cam and next they the female showed up too. It was helpful in this situation that the birds bred successfully in the same nest box and they were used to their neighbourhood. It means that they did not give up the nest box, and the female soon laid the first egg proving that they are not disturbed by the camera.

There are now five eggs in the nests, which is the maximum. Sakers do not lay more eggs. Hatching is expected mid-April that is the time, when the really eventful period in the life of the family – and viewers – starts. Like in the case of 'real reality shows', the observation is continuous also during the night. Infra red light – that the birds cannot detect – illuminates the nest box and an infra-camera records the pictures, which are black and white that time. Night (thus 24-hour) observation of a Saker nest has not been done anywhere in the world so far.

Apart from collecting information, another important aim of the web camera installation is to bring closer the species to the everyone interested, as only a few know those birds and even fewer encounter them in nature. This latter is not surprising as the Hungarian population – although slightly increasing – counts not much more than two-hundred pairs. Its global population throughout its Eurasian distribution range is recently estimated to six to twelve-thousand pairs by BirdLife International, however this global population is decreasing everywhere, apart from the Carpathian Basin. In the last half year, the species was uplisted into higher conservation categories on two international conservation lists (of Convention on Migratory Species or Bonn Convention, and IUCN), which highlights the importance of the problem.

In 1980, the Hungarian population was estimated not more than thirty pairs, and it was due to the intensive conservation efforts that the decrease ceased and the population recovered to the recent level. The Carpathian Basin is the westernmost edge of the distribution area of this species inhabiting open grasslands, steppe and agricultural areas. In Central-Europe, it finds the most appropriate habitats in Hungary and thus this somewhat more than two-hundred pairs give the strongest population in the region, and the second strongest in whole Europe, after Ukraine. The conservation of the species in the region, therefore, is the task of Hungary first of all and so far that challenge has been very well answered. The first LIFE programme in 2006 followed by the second in 2010 both with the support of the European Union are the continuation of the conservation programme launched in 1980. Hungarian and Slovak organisations participated in the first project, while Hungarian, Slovak, Bulgarian and Romanian governmental and non-governmental organisations, as well as private companies have been participating in the second one.

Installation of web camera, however is only one element of the second LIFE programme. Other practical conservation measures are being implemented as well, like insulation of dangerous pylons of mid-voltage power lines, installation of artificial nests for Sakers that do not build nest – similarly to other falcon species –, raising awareness of the most important stakeholder groups, making agri-environmental support schemes Saker-friendly or preparing proposal to solve conflicts between Sakers and wind farms.

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