The white-tailed eagle has become a new inhabitant of the large herbivores reserve

2023 - 01 - 31

The white-tailed eagle, Europe’s largest eagle, has started to regularly appear in the large herbivores reserve, European Serengeti, in the former military training area of Milovice near Prague.

The sighting of an exceptionally large bird of prey was first reported by the visitors to the reserve. Documentary makers who are shooting a film in the reserve about local nature were first to determine that it is a white-tailed eagle. “We saw a white-tailed eagle circling at a height of eighty to one hundred metres in the eastern part of the reserve,” described Frantisek Styblo from NatureTV, a creator of nature films.

Sighting of the white-tailed eagle is another milestone for the reserve. “Even though numbers of white-tailed eagles have been on the increase in many parts of Europe in recent years, the presence of this bird of prey in the reserve is certainly a positive signal documenting the restoration of biodiversity in and around the reserve,” added Dalibor Dostal, director of the conservation organisation European Wildlife, which founded the reserve in cooperation with scientists.

Other experts also say that the return of birds of prey points to the improving condition of nature in some areas. “Thanks to long-term targeted protection and conservationist efforts, not only large ungulates but also populations of ultimate predators including wolves and white-tailed eagles, which represent an important part of functional and healthy ecosystems, are returning to the countryside,” says Martin Salek from the Institute of Vertebrate Biology of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

White-tailed eagles used to nest in the territory of the present-day Czech Republic relatively often until the 19th century. Due to their persecution by humans, however, they gradually stopped nesting in this country, with their last nesting sites ceasing to exist in the 1920s. The white-tailed eagle started returning to the Czech countryside in the 1970s. The total population of the white-tailed eagle in present-day Czechia from 1985 to 1989 was 8 to 10 pairs. “More than 150 pairs may currently be nesting in the Czech Republic. In addition, a large number of birds from northern Europe and the Baltic countries winter here as well. They find not only better climatic conditions but also enough food here,” adds Martin Salek and continues: “During winter, in particular, both adult and young birds wander up to hundreds of kilometres from their nesting sites, thus being able to visit even seemingly atypical habitats, outside areas with fairly large bodies of water such as open country, including fields and pastures.” At the same time, the Czech population totals an estimated 500 to 600 birds. This makes the white-tailed eagle the most numerous species among eagles that are found in the Czech Republic.

“The white-tailed eagle is not a good predator. It feeds primarily on fish, but during winter a considerable part of its diet may also consist of carcasses, so it can perform the important sanitary role of a sort of health police in nature. So, visiting the Milovice reserve may provide an offering of carcasses of cloven-hoofed animals or wild boars,” describes Martin Salek.

The wingspan of white-tailed eagles is around 190 to 253 cm, but it may even reach 260 cm. The weight of a male averages 4 kg and a female, which is more massive, weighs around 5.5 kg. “The greatest risk for white-tailed eagles as well as other rare and endangered birds of prey is posed by targeted persecution by humans, especially the laying of poisoned baits,” concludes Martin Salek.

Four eagle species nest in the Czech Republic at present. Eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca), lesser-spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). The greater spotted eagle (Clanga clanga) is also found in this country while migrating.

In addition to the white-tailed eagle, other birds of prey such as the red kite, black kite and Montagu’s harrier are found in the reserve for large ungulates near Milovice. Not only birds of prey but also beasts of prey thrive in the reserve. The common jackal has a stable population in the reserve, and the wolf was spotted there several years ago, too.

Photo: Profimedia

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