Saker Falcon

Saker Falcon

Details About The Saker Falcon

  • General Information

    Saker Falcons are the second largest falcon in the world, smaller only than the Gyrfalcon. The falcons have brown underbellies and contrasting grey flight feathers. The head and underparts are paler brown, with streaking from the breast down. Males and females are similar, as are young birds, although these tend to be a duller brown. Adults can be distinguished from the similar Lanner Falcon since the Lanner is blue-grey above with a reddish back to the head. However, juveniles of the two species can be very similar, although the Saker Falcon always has a uniformly buff top of the head with dark streaks, and a less clear pattern on the sides of the head. The Saker is classified as Vulnerable to extinction, mostly due to habitat destruction and illegal trapping for falconry.

    Latin Name: Falco cherrug
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Falconidae
    Length: 17-21 inches
    Weight: 1.5-3 pounds
    Wingspan: 39-51 inches
    Common Name: Altai Saker, Steppe Saker
    Etymology: falco - (Latin) - referring to the sickle-shaped talons or the shape of the wings in flight; cherrug (Arabic) - "falcon"

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    The Saker Falcon often hunts by horizontal pursuit, rather than the aerial stoop characteristic to Peregrines. They can, however, dive at speeds close to 150 miles per hour and soar close to 1,000 feet in the air. Their hunting techniques are similar to those of a Goshawk, often ambushing prey from a perch.

    The call is a sharp kiy-ee.

    Sakers occupy stick nests in trees, about 15 to 20 meters above the ground, in parklands and open forests at the edge of the tree line. They prefer open grassland, with some trees and cliffs, plains, forested steppes, or more arid desert areas.

  • Nesting

    In order to attract females, male Sakers engage in spectacular aerial displays, in common with many other members of the genus Falco. Sakers are generally two to three years old before they begin breeding. There can be 2 to 6 eggs per brood, but generally the number is between 3 and 5 (on average 4). After the third egg is laid, full incubation begins, and usually lasts for about 32 to 36 days. In general, as is true for most falcons, male offspring develop faster than females. The young hatch with their eyes closed, but they open in a few days. They have two downy nestling plumages before attaining juvenile plumage. They attain adult plumage when a little over a year old, after their first annual molt. Females reach sexual maturity about a year before males; they occasionally breed in their first year, but usually not until their second or third year, and some wait until their fourth year. Males, on the other hand, begin breeding in their second year at the very earliest; most wait until the third or fourth year, and some males don’t begin breeding until their fifth year. No one has ever observed a Saker Falcon building its own stick nest; they generally occupy abandoned nests of other bird species, and sometimes even drive owners from an occupied nest. In the more rugged areas of their range, Sakers have been known to use nests on cliff ledges, about 8 to 50 meters above the base

  • Distribution

    This species breeds from Eastern Europe eastwards across Asia to Manchuria. It is mainly migratory except in the southernmost parts of its range, wintering in Ethiopia, the Arabian peninsula, northern Pakistan and western China.

  • Food

    During the breeding season, small mammals such as ground squirrels, hamsters, jerboas, gerbils, hares, and pikas may constitute 60 to 90% of a Saker pair’s diet. At other times, ground-dwelling birds such as quail, sandgrouse, pheasants, and more aerial birds such as ducks, herons, and even other raptors (owls, kestrels, and harriers) can account for 30 to 50% of all prey, especially in more forested areas. Sakers may also eat large lizards.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Sekhmet, a female Saker Falcon was captive bred at a center in Utah and arrived at Carolina Raptor Center in 2010 at just 6 weeks of age. She can be seen on our display trail, educating the public about endangered species and human impact on raptor populations. Sekhmet was named by the Raftelis Family for the Egyptian god of power.

    Athena, our newest Saker Falcon, is our second retiree from the Medevial Times dinner and jousting show. She came to CRC in 2018 and is currently in training to be a member of our flight team. She is named after the goddess of wisdom and warfare. 

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    Saker Falcons have been upgraded to Endangered status largely because they are being over-captured for the falconry trade. Let it go! Let it go!

    In the Middle East, falconry has penetrated into everyday culture. Falcons perch in the middle of living rooms, on the back of a car seat, and on the arm of a falconer seated at lunch. There is a falcon beauty contest in Abu Dhabi and a new falcon passport system in the United Arab Emirates. Some Middle Eastern airlines allow falcons to perch on a falconer’s armrest during flights.