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Saker falcon chicks got tattoos to be saved from trappers

20 june 2022
This method helped to spoil the exterior of birds to help save a rare falcon from catchers

Tattoos on the cere (the area of the upper beak) and the tarsus on the paws of each of the eight Sakers were inflicted by volunteers from the Russian Raptors Research Network from Novosibirsk before releasing the birds into the wild. Tattoos in the form of the word SOS - a call for help understandable in any language - are absolutely harmless to birds, but spoil the perfect appearance of falcons, which is so important for catchers who sell Saker Falcons to falconers in the Arab countries. Ornithologists are sure that, having caught such a bird, the catcher will release it into the wild, because the buyer does not need an imperfect product.

(c) Russian Raptors Research Network

Saker falcons, who were tattooed, hatched in the spring in the Vitasfera nursery (Moscow), and already in early June, at the age of 18-20 days, they were placed in the nests of wild pairs of Saker Falcons in the regions of Southern Siberia, the area Altai Saker Falcons still inhabit.

Saker falcons are fed and placed in the nests of wild saker falcons.
(c) Russian Raptors Research Network

Wild Saker Falcons do not distinguish adopted children from native ones and feed them all. The birds will grow up and join the population of the rare Saker Falcon. Ornithologists have been restoring the population of the Altai Saker Falcon since 2017 with this method as part of a project implemented by the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network, the World Around You Foundation of Siberian Wellness and the WWF.


We used an ordinary tattoo machine to apply the SOS designs. The manipulation is painless and fast. Volunteers of the Novosibirsk Wild Animal Rehabilitation Center became the tattoo artists. We hope that the tattoo idea will save at least these eight birds from the catchers, because the birds from the nursery are not valued by the catchers as much as the wild ones,” says Elena Schneider, an ornithologist at the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network.

The Altai Saker Falcon Conservation Project made it possible to release in the wild 73 saker falcon chicks of a rare dark brown color (morph) in 2017-2022. This method helps the birds adapt more easily to living in nature. Dozens of Saker Falcons have been tagged with GPS/GSM trackers to track migration routes and the fate of the birds. Last year, the first Saker Falcon released in the wild from the nursery returned to its breeding grounds.

Five birds both native and the birds from nursery were tagged with GSM-transmitters.
(c) Russian Raptors Research Network

“The Altai Saker Falcons, dark brown, almost chocolate in color, paid high price for their beauty. These birds were first caught out in the wild for falconers in the Arab countries. Sheikhs are ready to pay record prices for a beautiful bird, and it is wild birds that are valued, falcons bought in nurseries are not needed. Over the past 20 years, the number of the saker falcon in the world has halved, and the Altai Saker Falcons have survived only in a narrow range in Southern Siberia,” says Alexander Karnaukhov, Senior Project Coordinator of the WWF Russia Representative Office in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion.

The artificial nests for rare birds are built to provides places for nesting.
(c) Russian Raptors Research Network

Until the end of June, experts from the WWF will control the nests, put additional food to help foster families - rats and hamsters from the vivarium. Five Saker Falcons were tagged with GPS trackers that allow tracking the movement of birds, their fate and assess the success of the project.