About White-tailed Eagle

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)

It is assumed that centuries ago, before the major river regulations took place, white-tailed eagles used to breed in entire Europe. As a result of the unfavourable effects of the 20th century, - including shooting, removal of eggs or chicks, DDT and non-selective poisons, forestry activities and other types of disturbance - white-tailed eagle populations continued to diminish. The critical period, with the lowest population sizes was in the 1970s. Owing to the successful conservation measures and due to the banning of poisonous agricultural chemicals, today the populations appear to be increasing all around Europe. The white-tailed eagle is a species with a wide distribution range, its continuous population existing in the northern part of Europe and Asia. Towards the east, its breeding area extends as far as Kamchatka. It occurs in substantial numbers in Scandinavia, Poland, Germany and the Baltic states. The pool of white-tailed eagles breeding in the Carpathian Basin seems to be an isolated inland population. The number of breeding pairs is estimated at around 6000.

The white-tailed eagle is the largest bird of prey existing in Europe. Its wingspan can be between 220-245 cm, body length 70-91 cm, and its weigh between 3,5-6,5 kg. Mature white-tailed eagles can be easily distinguished by their size, white wedge-shaped tail and huge, yellow beak. The young birds have variable, dark and light brown plumage, their tail also being predominantly brown. Because the colour of the beak and the eye changes continuously from dark brown to light yellow, it is a good indication of age. Adult coloration will be acquired only by the age of 5-6 years when the eagles reach sexual maturity.

White-tailed eagles prefer to settle near wetland areas where there are, in addition to the required type of food, old forest stands suitable for nesting. The size of individual nests keeps growing year after year, resulting in several decades old nests measuring 3 metres high and 2 metres in diameter. Normally, white-tailed eagle nests are 60-80 cm high and 80-120 cm wide.

The breeding period of the Central-European birds starts very early, sometimes in January, but normally it starts in the middle of February-March. Then they lay 1-3 eggs. Chicks leave the nests between the end of May and the beginning of July.

The majority of their diet is made up by fish which are taken without plunging into the water, unlike in the case of the osprey. Among waterfowl, coots and mallards are taken the most often.

The young, immature birds migrate until they reach maturity and find a nesting site. Among the matured birds the northern population migrates, but the breeding population in Central-Europe is permanent. These facts are supported by the colour ringing programme – which project was launched in Northern-Europe and by now, Central-Europe has also joined.


Practical activities of the White-tailed Eagle Protection Programme

Surveying and continuous control of habitats, searching for new nesting pairs.

Bringing the most important habitats under protection, harmonising the conservation measures with the authorities, implying the required temporal and spatial restrictions.

Performing monitoring activities, recording breeding results, surveying the wintering populations, recording data of other types.

Establishing co-operation with stakeholders.

Installing artificial nests to encourage the settling of more eagles, and to improve the breeding conditions of eagle pairs nesting in forest stands with unfavourable tree and branch structure.

Marking the eagle chicks as part of the European colour ringing programme.

Winter feeding that assists the overwintering of mostly the young birds through the provision of poison-free food, and also facilitates the reading of coloured rings.

Insulation of the supporting structure of mid-voltage electric lines near the breeding and feeding areas.

Medical treatment of injured or weak individuals, and releasing them later, if possible.

Awareness-raising and education, establishing co-operation with the affected or involved social and economic groups.

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