Snapshots of a Romanian Saker Falcon family’s life

At the end of May 2013 a Saker Falcon was caught and tagged with satellite transmitter. The data from this Saker’s transmitter named Toro gives information about the way Sakers use their hunting territory, their habitats preference, their various prey sources and the size of a Romanian Saker Falcon breeding territory. Not long before, these information could be gained only through direct observation made by ornithologists standing long hours in a certain place next to the nest, which despite of the huge effort offered only a small amount of the information which modern technology gives us nowadays.

After Toro was equipped with satellite transmitter, the two Saker chicks grown in a nest mounted on a high voltage pylon in Banat region, were successfully brought down for ringing in the middle of June with the help of ENEL Romania. The age difference the two chicks show was too big to let us ring them both, so only the bigger one was ringed with a colour and aluminium ring. The smaller chick’s legs were not developed enough for ringing. Colour ringing of Saker Falcons is a premier in Romania. This method will help us gain more information about the movements of this species, as will be quite easy from now on to identify certain specimens by reading from distance with spotting scopes the unique ring codes. By mounting a photo-trap camera near the nest of Toro we reached another premier in Romania. This camera is remotely activated by any movements made by the chicks or the adult birds in the nest, helping us to understand better what happens in an active Saker nest. The main aims of this activity are to identify the prey species brought by the chicks’ parents and observing other details from their nest-life.

Approximately 3 weeks after the Saker parents finished feeding their chicks inside the nest, the camera was recovered with 9337 photos waiting to be analyzed. Every picture came with precise date and hour, thus a correlation could be made between the moments when the parents brought the prey to the nest and the GPS coordinates with Toro’s locations and movements coming from his satellite transmitter. Usually males hunt while females feed the chicks, and by this method we can identify the very areas where Toro captures specific preys. With other words, information was revealed about the habitat preference and prey preference of a Saker pair. We received answers for the following questions: what prey brought Toro for his chicks and where did he caught them? Which are the main prey species making Sakers choose their breeding territory in the western part of Romania?

After analyzing the images the preference of Sakers for European Ground Squirrels (Susliks) was confirmed again, as 80% of preys brought by the adults to the nest were Susliks. There were other prey species as well as Rooks and Magpies, but these consists only 20% of the Sakers’ diet, indicating that these species are just complementary, while Susliks are the basic food resource for this Saker Falcon family. This spots on the high importance of pastures inhabited by European Ground Squirrel for raptors, which means that conserving these grasslands could determine the future of these species.

Unfortunately, according to Hungarian specialists’ opinion, the smaller chick was infected with diphtheria and it couldn`t develop as proper as its brother did, and one day it fell out from the nest being lost forever. These cases are not rare in the Saker Falcons’ life, but in the same time it suggests how many factors these birds are threatened by from the beginning of their lives.  With the help of the photo-trap cameras we are able to identify some of the negative factors threatening the lives of the Romanian Saker Falcon families, which emphasizes the necessity of protection of all specimens. To prevent electrocution of the chick and his parents, several medium voltage transmission poles were isolated near the nest. This activity will continue in the following periods all over where Saker Falcon breed. The help getting from the electric companies on this issue is invaluable. We hope that we will be able to mount other camera traps to Saker nests in the next breeding period as well, for information gained through these cameras help us to improve the conservation measures Sakers need to survive in Romania.

Toro, the second Romanian Saker Falcon tagged with satellite transmitter ever (Photo: Luca Dehelean)

The two chicks of Toro (Photo: Luca Dehelean)

The bigger chick, the first Romania Saker Falcon with colour rings (Photo: Luca Dehelean)

The female feeds the chicks with European Ground Squirrels brought by Toro, the male

The difference in age and development between the two Saker Falcon chicks

The smaller chick falls out accidentally from the nest

The female needs to feed only one chick from now on

The female brings a Suslik for the chick

The bigger chick before fledging

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