Breeding programme


Saker Falcon - The Central Laboratory for General Ecology (CLGE) at the Bulgarian Academy of Science has been leading a project for research and conservation of Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) in Bulgaria for the past four years. In 2007 Green Balkans got actively involved in the viability study for the potential reintroduction of Saker falcons in Bulgaria, after the field work had found no nesting pairs in the country. The team of the Rescue Center established close collaboration with the International Wildlife Consultants (UK) Ltd and CLGE in the planning and development of the part concerning the potential captive breeding of birds and their further release. Within this partnership two volunteers of Green Balkans exchanged practical experience with the specialized falcon breeding centre in Wales, UK.
The results of the field studies and the practical work are published in the current document “Saker Falcon Reintroduction in Bulgaria. Viability Study.”, developed within the requirements of IUCN.
Saker Falcon Reintroduction in Bulgaria - Feasibility Study 3 Mb (pdf) download

Despite of the high percent of healed and released back in nature animals not a little part of the patients have long-lasting damages and can’t live on their own in the nature. Many of these animals are included in a series of rehabilitation courses and are adapted for their future aviary life. Some of these are included in the Centre’s program for breeding of rare species. In this way from parents that can’t live in the wild totally healthy offspring is reared.

Main aims of the program:
  • Breeding and release back in nature of common species aiming at gathering of practical experience, promotion of the program and support of the wild populations;
  • Support of rare species populations that are still found in the wild but their population trend is declining at European and Global level;
  • Development of reintroduction programs for species extinct in the wild and their long-term recovery.

Until now  the Centre has breeding success with different species like:
  • Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)
  • Long-legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus)
  • Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
  • European Eagle owl (Bubo bubo)
  • White stork (Ciconia ciconia)


Short history of the program

Great part of the breeding program’s first steps has been directed towards more common species widely spread in the country. The aim of those initial efforts was to acquire general practical knowledge that are of extreme importance for that specific activity. The first breeding efforts started back in 1999 thanks to Dr Ivan Ivanov, Director of Sofia Zoo. The zoo provided the first birds – European Eagle Owl and Long-legged Buzzard. Later after 2003 the specialists from the Centre started constant experience exchange with different breeding centres in Europe. Our main partners in that activity are organizations from Austria, Spain and France. Some of these actions are implemented within the activities of the Balkan Vulture Action Plan (BVAP) The Plan was initiated by a consortium of international organizations amongst which leading players are Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and Black Vulture Conservation Foundation (BVCF). As of today the Plan is implemented by more than 30 NGOs from the Balkan countries and its main goal is creation of viable populations on the Balkans of the four European vulture species.
As part of this Plan after 10 year expectation and persistent work in the summer of 2007 Dr Hans Frey from the Bearded vulture breeding centre at Haringsee (EGS) , Austria provided for breeding a pair of juvenile Bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus). Later one Black vulture (Aegypius monachus) that was not fit to survive in the wild was provided by colleagues from WWF – Dadia, Greece. From Romania colleagues from the NGO Milvus Group (and mostly thanks to the efforts of Marton Kelemen) provided to the Wildlife Rescue centre one adult female Imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) that was not able to live on its own in the wild. 

Future steps for the breeding program are:
- forming of breeding pairs from the species Bearded vultures, Imperial eagles, Black vultures, Egyptian vultures and Griffon vultures, Lesser Kestrel.
- forming of pairs from other more common species with educational purpose and acquiring more experience in breeding and keeping of juvenile birds in aviaries.

Saker Falcon

The Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) is the biggest falcon found in Bulgaria. In the past it used to be one of the most common bird species in the Ludogorie, Dobrudja, and Danube regions as hundreds, perhaps thousands of pairs used to breed in the country. Unfortunately, in the mid 20th century as a result of changed land-use practices, the cultivation of pastures, mass use of pesticides and indiscriminate hunting the Saker falcon population declined to only a few dozen pairs scattered throughout Bulgaria. Today the species are still under threat - only in 2018 the first Saker falcon nest in the country was discovered after they were declared extinct as breeding species more than 20 years ago.
The problem is not only the destruction of habitats in the past or their deteriorated condition; it is also closely related to encroachments by falconers and poachers. Unfortunately, even though it’s getting more and more difficult to find these magnificent birds in the wild, they are still found in cages kept by falconers and pseudo nature-lovers. One should not forget that taking chicks from their nests and keeping and breeding Saker falcons hatched in the wild is absolutely illegal and prohibited.
What we do:
  • Participated in the development of a Strategy for the Saker Falcon Reintroduction in Bulgaria together with the Central Laboratory of General Ecology, the Birds of Prey Protection Society, and the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna;
  •  Prepared the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre - Green Balkans in Stara Zagora for breeding Saker falcons in captivity, so that their offspring is then released in the wild as part of the measures envisaged in the Reintroduction Strategy;
  • Breeding Saker falcons in captivity and subsequent release of hatched birds from 2015 until now;
  • Construction and installation of artificial nests within a radius of 30 km from the territory for releasing falcons in order to encourage nesting - Saker falcons do not make their own nests but often occupy such made by other bird species. By 2021, 20 nest will have been mounted on suitable trees;
  •  Search for Saker falcon nests in areas where adult birds have been seen and in territories with suitable habitats for the species - conducted during the numerous expeditions of Green Balkans’ volunteers and experts;
  •  Study potential sites for settlement of Saker falcons with suitable living conditions, food base and low level of disturbance;
  •  Study the threats and the limiting factors impeding the distribution and stabilization of the Saker falcon population in Bulgaria;
  •  Implement information and education activities - working with students, hunting and fishing societies, and the public. 
  • The feasibility study for launching a Program for the Saker Falcon Reintroduction in Bulgaria was completed in 2008 and soon after the program was initiated;
  •  Cooperation was established between Green Balkans, Central Laboratory of General Ecology and other Bulgarian and foreign NGOs which are to cooperate in the Reintroduction Program;
  •  Identified were a number of territories offering suitable conditions for the reintroduction of Saker falcons;
  •  Green Balkans’ employee took part in a training course at the falcon breeding centre of International Wildlife Consultants Ltd. in Wales (UK) to gain practical skills and later apply the methods at the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre in Stara Zagora;
  •  A plan was prepared, specifying all the equipment needed in the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre - Green Balkans for the development of a program for breeding falcons in captivity;
  •  Aviaries were built for the purposes of the breeding Saker falcon pairs in the Centre - 10 breeding cages and 2 stock cages for juvenile falcons;
  •  A brand new incubation room was built meeting the highest requirements for the needs of the Saker falcon breeding program;
  •  A territory for the release of the hatched falcons was chosen, where four adaptation aviaries (hacks) were installed;
  •  At the beginning of the program six breeding pairs of Saker falcons were formed in the aviaries of the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre - Green Balkans. Since then the number of birds has been changing as newly formed adult pairs join. In 2020 there are 10 breeding pairs and in 2021 the program is to start with 11 pairs;
  •  From 2011 to 2020, 98 young birds were released through the hacking method (via an adaptation aviary), 71 of them hatched in the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre - Green Balkans;
  •  In the winter of 2016 one of the released via the program Saker falcons was repeatedly observed in the area around Stara Zagora. And for three consecutive summers - 2018-2020, another Saker was often noticed in the area of the adaptation aviary from which it was released in 2016;
  •  In 2018 an active Saker falcon nest was discovered - the first in years and currently the only confirmed such in Bulgaria. The two pairs (the female bird was replaced in 2020) were formed by falcons released via the hacking method, and are observed to successfully breed during the three years since their discovery;
  • In 2020, 10 artificial nests were built and installed on trees suitable for the species in the region of Stara Zagora. 
How you can help:
  • By participating in the expeditions for research and conservation of this species; by providing information of any sightings of individuals, as well as information of birds kept in captivity, or any encroachments upon Saker Falcons and other raptors;
  •  By taking part in the information activities (presentations, dissemination of information and promotion materials);
  • By making a donation for the conservation of this rare species;
HERE you can contact with our team. 

The Saker Falcon Reintroduction in Bulgaria project is funded by the:
  • Mohammed bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Fund; 
  • Armeec JSC;
  •  Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD);
  • International Wildlife Consultants (IWC);
  • Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (IBER)
  • Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund
  • People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).