Lonely Planet Writer

German conservationists mount campaign to save the lesser spotted eagle

An ambitious conservation project is trying to rebuild a population of endangered eagles in Germany. The number of lesser spotted eagles in Germany has been reduced to just 110 breeding pairs over recent decades because of habitat loss and hunting.

Lesser spotted eagle in full flight
Lesser spotted eagle without transmitter. Photo by: Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg.

To try and increase their numbers, a conservationist from BirdLife Germany has experimented with relocating chicks from a much more stable population in the Baltic state of Latvia, 940 kilometres away. And the best part of the project is that the Latvian population does not suffer at all. Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg, who developed the plan, only takes the chicks that hatch second in the Latvian nests, which would usually otherwise die within a matter of days.

The rescued chicks, which they have nicknamed ‘Abels’ [after the biblical story of Cain and Abel], are then moved to a secure hide in the Schorfheide-Chorin reserve in the state of Brandenburg. “The small chicks are fed using a puppet that looks like the head of an adult bird,” said Meyburg, “once they are big enough to feed on their own, the food is introduced into [their] chamber through a small hole in one of the solid walls.”

German conservationists plan programme to save the lesser spotted eagle
Lesser spotted eagle with transmitter in full flight. Photo by: Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg

That, of course, is not the end of the challenge and the chicks next need to survive the “gruelling migration” that takes them to overwintering sites in southern Africa. Meyburg also couldn’t be sure the chicks wouldn’t just fly back to Latvia, instead of Germany.

In a paper for the Journal of Experimental Biology, they said small numbers of birds had managed to find their way back to their new home.In 2009, they fitted GPS transmitters to twelve of the youngsters … but only four of them completed the full migration.They were much less successful than the natively bred eagles, which had wisely followed adults on a less challenging path across the Mediterranean.

Conservationists plan to relocate lesser spotted eagle chicks in Germany
Lesser spotted eagle numbers are dwindling in Germany. Photo by: Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg

“Juvenile lesser spotted eagles are highly dependent on adult guidance in order to survive their first migration and locate the traditional winter grounds,” said Meyburg. Still, two of the new chicks did make it back to Germany. One reared his own chick in Brandenburg three years later establishing a new territory that did not exist before.