The Imperial Eagle is among the rarest birds on the planet. It is globally endangered and its population is in decrease worldwide. In the past the Imperial Eagle was one of the most common birds of prey in Bulgaria. Estimates show that about 2000 pairs lived in Bulgaria 200 years ago; today there are only 24 pairs.
The Imperial Eagle has been revered as a sacred bird for millennia – our ancestors believed it could chase away thunderclouds and thus save the harvest. Even now people in some corners of Bulgaria say that a great disaster would fall upon men if somebody killed or harmed an Imperial Eagle. The bird is also known as “cross eagle” due to the white epaulet-like spots on its wings which can be seen in flight.
The reasons for the dramatic decline of the species are many; the main, however, include the mass killing of birds of prey in the 1950s – 1970s, the changing habitats and the intensification of agriculture which lead to the disappearance of many species, some of which serve as food for the Imperial Eagle. Misuse of pesticides, poisoning with illegal baits and poaching are still factors that cause the death of many eagles. Recently evidence was gathered for yet another threat. The satellite tagging of Imperial Eagles carried out by a BSPB team proved that a significant number of juvenile birds die from electrocution when they perch on unprotected poles of the electric network. More than 80% of the tagged Imperial Eagles which were found dead had died of electrocution on the territories of Bulgaria and Turkey.
The BSPB has been carrying out research and conservation activities aimed at the Imperial Eagle for almost twenty years now. In 2009 we launched our first project for the species, funded by the LIFE+ Programme of the European Union – Conservation of Imperial Eagle and Saker Falcon in Key Natura 2000 Sites in Bulgaria. The project is realized in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (UK), the Hungarian Ornithological Society, Centralen Balkan National Park and the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna.
The most important achievements of the project include: about 20% growth of the Imperial Eagle population and an increase in nesting success with about 30%. These results were accomplished through complex conservation activities such as supplementary feeding, artificial nest installation, habitat restoration, cooperation with the institutions etc. 561 dangerous electric poles were insulated in a joint operation with the electric distributor EVN Bulgaria; in a pioneer example of partnership for Bulgaria the BSPB and EVN signed a memorandum for cooperation. We cooperated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to introduce a new agroecological measure in the Rural Development Programme that stimulates farmers to turn their arable land into pasture land, thus supporting the survival of the European souslik – a main component of the diet of the Imperial Eagle. The project team fitted 25 juvenile Imperial Eagles with satellite transmitters which provided precise data for the high death rate and for the habits and behaviour of the species; this is the largest-scale satellite tagging programme for Imperial Eagles in the world. We organized dozens of meetings with key local communities – farmers, hunters, local businessmen. We organized trainings for biology teachers in over 300 schools in NATURA 2000 areas across the country. We had a huge success in popularizing our knowledge about this majestic bird among the wide public; for that we relied on dozens of publications in the media, on information materials, social networking and a giant 25-metre-high graffiti of the Imperial Eagle on the wall of 32nd Secondary School in the centre of our capital Sofia; now much more people in Bulgaria know about the tough fate of the species and are willing to contribute to its conservation.
Learn more about the Imperial Eagle