Imperial eagles in fallen nest

First nest guarding program in Serbia saves two young imperial eagles

Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS)
30-AUG-2017 - To protect the last imperial eagle nest in Serbia, a novel nest guarding program was set up this year. In the special nature reserve ‘Pastures of the Great Bustard’, a team of devoted people dedicated their time and energy to facilitate a safe breeding environment. It turned out it was much needed.

The first ever LIFE project implemented in Serbia

The guarding program is part of ‘PannonEagle LIFE’, a project for the conservation of imperial eagles in the Pannonian Region by decreasing human-caused mortality. The project is conducted by the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS; a BirdLife affiliate in Serbia) together with the Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province (INCVP) and is coordinated by MME Hungary. The imperial eagle nest guarding program is part of the first ever LIFE project implemented in Serbia.

For more than four months, the complete breeding season from egg laying to the fledging, PannonEagle guards were present at the nesting site to monitor the breeding eagle pair and prevent any disturbances. The observation post was stationed at a safe distance of one kilometre, so that the guards themselves would not disturb the birds. With the guidance of prescribed regulations by the INCVP for activities within the protected area, the guards made sure no unpermitted activity was conducted, people and vehicles were rerouted to circumvent the nest site, fires were reported and prevented from spreading, and the team achieved an understanding and important cooperation with local farmers and hunting associations.

A surprising turn of events

Building a new nestSerbia’s only breeding pair of imperial eagles raised two chicks and both eaglets managed to fully fledge and fly out of the nest. However, without the nest guarding program the breeding attempt would surely have failed this year.

In the night of 22nd of June, a severe storm took down the Canadian poplar tree in which the eagles were nesting. Together with the tree and the nest, the two young eagles, named Dusko and Lilika, fell to the ground. In their 9th week they were still incapable of flying. In this surprising turn of events, both eaglets managed to survive the fall. However, a large pile of broken branches prevented the parents from reaching their chicks.

The nest guard team was luckily there to help the birds. Among the many branches of the large treetop, Anita Sucic and the project manager for BPSSS, Milica Miskovic, found the eaglets sitting completely still in their fallen nest. Soon a local gamekeeper, Radenko Cvejanov, and veterinarian Atila Agoston came to assist in the rescue operation. Thanks to the rapid response, the birds could be quickly examined by the veterinarian. With no severe injuries, the birds’ best chance was to return to the nest site as soon as possible. Within the same day an artificial stork nest was placed on a portable lookout platform with some added branches tied to it. This quickly improvised construction was then transported to the nest site and positioned immediately next to the fallen tree.

Sigh of relief

In the following days, the nest was continuously monitored from a safe distance. The first sigh of relief came the next day, when the mother was spotted coming to feed her young. After it was confirmed that both parents were back, the biggest remaining concern was the human threat, as the eaglets were now very exposed. So, in their remaining sensitive weeks a very watchful eye was kept on them, waiting to see if and when will they would manage to fly out. Fortunately, despite all the challenges, both birds took their first flight successfully, leaving a nest in which they never hatched.

Young eagle in the new artificial nest

Text: Milica Miskovic, BPSSS
Photos: BPSSS