(1722) Falco cherrug cherrug.
THE SAKER OR CHERRUG FALCON.
Falco cherrug Gray in Hardw. Ill. Ind. Zool., ii, pl. 26 (1833-4) (India); Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 420.
Vernacular names. Charg Chargela (Hind.).
Description, Forehead, crown and nape white or fulvous-white, each feather with a broad central dark brown streak; bristly shafts of lores and cheeks black; posterior ear-coverts more or less streaked with brown ; a very narrow moustachial streak brown ; remainder of head and face white or fulvous-white: nape white heavily spotted with short brown streaks; remainder of upper parts and wing-coverts brown with broad tawny edges and blackish shafts ; the greater coverts, scapulars and sometimes a few other feathers with one or two fulvous or rufous spots or broken bars; quills rather darker brown barred on the concealed portions of the inner webs with white or rufescent-white, the white coalescing on the edges; tail pale fulvous-brown, the central feathers spotted on both webs with white, each spot edged darker; the lateral feathers darker and barred, not spotted; lower parts white or nearly so, with longitudinal drops of light brown, small and sometimes almost disappearing on the breast and centre of the abdomen in very old birds, larger and more numerous on the flanks and thigh-coverts and absent on the under tail-coverts; axillaries and under wing-coverts white more or less streaked with brown.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown to golden-hazel in old birds; bill ivory-white or yellowish-white tipped blackish; cere dull yellow; legs and feet dull yellow or yellowish-green, claws black.
Measurements. Wing, 348 to 370 mm., 390 to 412 mm.; tail, 190 to 200 mm., 207 to 210 mm.; tarsus about 56 to 58 mm.; culmen about 26 to 27 mm.
Young birds are darker and more brown generally above, the head is more brown and the dark markings on the head more extensive; below the chin and throat only are immaculate, bold dark brown streaks covering the remaining parts; in some young birds the central tail-feathers are without bars or spots. The cere is dull grey-green and the iris dull brown.
Distribution. Breeding in the Balkan Peninsula, South Eussia, Cyprus and West Central Asia, migrating to North-West India, China and North-West Africa in Winter.
In India it is common in the North-West Provinces and the Punjab, straggling into Sind and as far East as Nepal, though Hodgson's specimens may have been tame birds.
Nidification. The Saker breeds during April and early May, generally constructing its own nest in trees, less often on cliffs or high river-banks and occasionally usurping the nest of a Vulture or some other large bird. When self-made the nest is said to be compact, bulky and well-lined and almost invariably at a great height from the ground. The full complement of: eggs is three or four, most often the latter. In general appearance they are much like those of the Peregrines but, on the whole, a browner, less rich red and not so handsome. They are in fact somewhat intermediate between the Peregrine's and the Laggar Falcon's but are nearer the former. One hundred and fifty eggs average 54.1 x 41.6 mm.: maxima 58.7 X 43.6 mm.; minima 50.1 X 40.5 and 52.2 x 38.8 mm.
Habits. This is a Falcon of open lands, deserts and wide uncultivated tracts. It is inferior only to the Peregrine in courage and speed and formerly used to be trained to kill hares and gazelles, as well as Cranes, Bustard and Kites. It feeds on all kinds of birds and small mammals but in the Punjab is said to feed principally on a lizard (Uromastix hardwickii) found only in dry and barren country.