Rare Eastern Imperial Eagle appears in Malta for the first time

November 4, 2015 8:57 am

An Eastern Imperial Eagle roosted in Malta last night in what constitutes the first ever record of the presence of this species on the Maltese Islands.

BirdLife Malta today announced the first ever record of a rare Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) for the Maltese Islands, after it was alerted by birdwatcher members of the organization who spotted the massive eagle over Buskett yesterday early afternoon.

The eagle was later confirmed to be one of the birds satellite-tagged as part of a BirdLife Austria research project, which hatched in the wild in the Donau-Auen National Park at the beginning of May this year, and was satellite-tagged by researchers on the 25 June. While the eagle has been assigned the technical code “NPDA2”, researchers nicknamed it “Odysseus”, given the unusual migration route that brought it to Greece and Malta.

“We thought we had lost it when it set off from Greece” says Matthias Schmidt, who tagged Odysseus and its sibling, and is tracking them through Europe. “Our eagles rarely leave the Central Europe, and we feared that it would fall in the sea and drown. Luckily we were wrong.”

Eastern Imperial Eagles are classified as “vulnerable”, and have an estimated global population of only 3,500-15,000 individuals. The species faces a number of threats, including persecution through hunting and poisoning, habitat loss caused by forestry, illegal trade, and collision against power lines and wind farms. Satellite tags provide information about the birds’ movement, informing plans on where to build wind farms to avoid collisions and deterring persecution.

“Persecution of these amazing raptors is still a major problem” continues Schmidt. “We lost at least four out of seven tagged birds to illegal hunting. Knowing that the bird is tracked and its position is constantly known is a powerful way to deter hunters”.

Five juveniles were tracked as part of the project this year. Normally birds are fitted with a “backpack” that holds the tag, but in Odysseus’ case researchers used an innovative system that mounts it through a leg loop. It is the first time this system is used.

BirdLife Malta is patrolling the field to monitor any illegal activity. The organisation continues its plea to members of the public to keep a look out for it and alert police of any illegal hunting. Reports to police can be made on 119 while the organisation can be reached on 2134 7646.