The Slovak Saker Falcon Slávka successfully spent the winter season in Bulgaria

Recently a long lasting supposition that Bulgaria is a wintering ground for Saker Falcons (Falco cherrug) from more northern countries, was proved. The satellite tagged female Slávka, born in 2011 in Slovakia, spent almost 5 months (172 days between 23.10.2011 and 20.03.2012) in the central part of Southern Bulgaria. During virtually the entire period she remained on a territory of about 831 km². In a single case at the beginning, Slávka flied away at a distance of 79 km, but 2 days later was again on the wintering territory. Slávka entered Bulgaria through Dobrudzha and before reaching her wintering ground she passed along a well known “route” where numerous migrating Sakers have been observed before, as well as through several former breeding areas of her species in Bulgaria.

Slávka was born in an artificial nest, installed by the Raptor Protection of Slovakia – the Slovak Partner of the present LIFE+ Project. BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria teams from the very beginning made several visits to Slávka’s area to collect information about the bird, her food sources, as well as for assessment and preventing potential risks and threats. Surveys were done on the state of the habitats, prey species and their abundance, Slávka’s hunting behavior and success and on other issues, important for the successful overwintering of the falcon. At the beginning Slávka’s attacks were directed mainly to Skylarks and Starlings, later she was successful with Rooks and at certain moment she find a gathering of thousands feral pigeons and started successfully using this resource. Our observations came to an important conclusion: when numerous and easy for catching feral pigeons available, the faster and keeping to the settlements pigeons of the pigeon-fanciers are in fact outside the interest and hunting range of the Saker.

Our Project team is very happy that Slávka passed each other with the numerous risks and dangers, which were keeping us in suspense all the time during her stay in Bulgaria. Somehow she squeezed through the hundreds wind turbines in Dobrudzha, later succeeded to pass through the dense electricity network, through the hunting season and the numerous threats from the side of pigeon-fanciers and falcon trappers, through the unprecedented cold and snowy winter. By miracle she was rescued by the colleagues from Green Balkans (, when she almost became victim of a loop, which obviously are still used by poachers, in spite of the legal ban on them.

Almost half-year visit of Slávka showed again the importance of Bulgaria for the Western Saker population not only during the period of migration and roaming of the juveniles, but also during the wintering season. Slávka is the seventh satellite tagged Saker Falcon visited Bulgaria from amongst about 60 in total Sakers, provided with satellite transmitters in Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine. Taking into consideration that more than thousand juveniles are hatched annually in these countries, natural restoration of the Saker as breeding in Bulgaria is very probable. But it will never happen before the main factor, “depriving” the natural influx of individuals will be removed. And this factor is the target/Saker oriented encroachments for the purposes of the falconry and by pigeon-fanciers.

Video footage of Slávka in Bulgaria can be seen here (courtesy BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria).


Slavka in field


Rook remains


One of Threats

Skylark remains



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