The eagle of rivers and lakes
The white-tailed eagle is one of the largest raptors in Bulgaria. In flight it is identified by its long, wide wings, its short tail and its long neck. Adults have a brown body, with a light-coloured head and white tail. The young are dark brown.
The realm of the eagle
White-tailed eagles live in the vicinity of various wetland habitats – along big rivers, near lakes, marshes, reservoirs, fish ponds, and any place that is rich in food resources – fish and waterfowl. However, they have been known to nest in agricultural lands far from any water bodies. In such cases thier prey includes hedgehogs, hares, etc.
In Bulgaria, white-tailed eagles nest mainly on the islands in the Danube River, on the Black Sea coast (the rivers Kamchia and Ropotamo), as well as in the area of the Burgas Lakes and Durankulak Lake. In the south-eastern part of the country – mostly along the rivers Tundzha and Arda, as well as in the area of several larger inland reservoirs: Zhrebchevo, Pyasachnik, Tsonevo, Ovcharitsa, Rozov Kladenets, Trakiets, Studen Kladenets, Ivaylovgrad and Koprinka. In the last decade they have started to spread to new territories in the Upper Thracian Plain, sometimes far from water bodies.
White-tailed eagles are a resident species; However the young individuals disperse over large distances. arrive in Bulgaria from Northern Europe. The species lives near rivers, marshes, reservoirs with old poplar or oak forests along the banks.
Restoration of habitats
The restoration and protection of wetlands in Bulgaria, together with the preservation of clean water, is of utter importance for white-tailed eagles and for the increase of their numbers. The availability of enough safe and peaceful sites away from human disturbance that they can use as breeding, feeding and resting sites is a requirement for the success of the existing pairs and the formation of new ones. The protection of water resources in lakes, marshes and reservoirs provides food resources and guarantees the presence of white-tailed eagles.
A breeding requirement for white-tailed eagles are the tall, strong old trees on the banks of water bodies in areas without human presence and disturbance. Therefore, the conservation of riparian forests and the plantation of new ones of the appropriate tree species (black poplar, elm, alder, etc.) are of key importance.
Safe electricity pylons and poles
The 20 kW power grid poses a serious threat to white-tailed eagles as the birds can be electrocuted when they perch on the pylons. Therefore, the BSPB has established a successful cooperation with electricity providers in order to make such pylons and poles safe for the eagles and other big birds.
Several approaches are used in the process:
Fight against wildlife crimes – fight against poisons
The only team with a specialized dog trained to find poisoned dead animals and baits in Bulgaria is the BSPB’s own anti-poison team. The team started operating in 2016 chiefly in the area of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains and Sakar Mountain but it responds to situations across the country. The task of Bars and his handler Nikolay is to search for carcasses of poisoned animals and for poisoned baits and to alert the respective authorities. After finding a carcass the handler determines what steps to take, as the animal could have died from natural causes. In case it has been poisoned, it must be removed from the wild as soon as possible; samples are sent to a laboratory to establish the cause of death.
The mass use of poisoned baits against predators in the 1950s was one of the reasons for the decline in the numbers of many raptors. The use of poisoned baits is strictly prohibited as it poses a risk not only to domestic animals and wildlife but to humans too. Unfortunately, the use of poisoned baits is still practiced.
Fight against poachers
Unfortunately, even today we still find birds of prey shot by poachers. A recent example comes from 2014 when the body of a white-tailed eagle shot by poachers was found in the Municipality of Svilengrad. This is one of the serious threats for many bird species in Bulgaria.
In order to study the movements of young white-tailed eagles after they leave the nest, as well as to determine the main threats they face, we fitted several birds with satellite transmitters in the area of Persina Nature Park. The data we collected are of key importance for the conservation of the species. The satellite-tagged birds remained in the vicinity of the Danube River for the whole year, more specifically on and around the Danube islands with greater concentrations of waterfowl. Satellite tagging is a modern method for studying the biology of endangered species and the threats they face.
Since its foundation, the BSPB works for the conservation of white-tailed eagles in Bulgaria. Our teams carry out regular monitoring of breeding pairs across the country, keeping track of the nesting success of the species. Many volunteers also take part in the monitoring.