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Spanish Imperial Eagle

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« on: March 19, 2009, 05:03:32 pm »

BrokenWing Chronicles
Spanish Imperial Eagle
(Aquila adalberti)
highly endangered

The Spanish Imperial Eagle is smaller and darker than its oriental cousin, and it is a resident species (A. heliaca migrated to SE during winter). This eagle feeds mainly on rabbits, but it can predate over many other animals, like rodents, hares, pigeons, crows, ducks and foxes. The species is classified as Vulnerable. Threats include loss of habitat and illegal poisoning. There has also been a decline in the Spanish rabbit population, as a result of myxomatosis and other viral illnesses. The current population is estimated at less than 500.
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Imperial Eagles are ready to breed for the first time when they are about four years old. When they reach this age, they find a mate whom they stay with for life. If one happens to die, however, the other will usually find a new mate and breed the next year. Every pair will build a nest, called an eyrie, in the top of a tree. These nests are generally made mainly with sticks, and are used only during the spring and summer months. Females will generally lay two eggs a year. Sometimes, however, they will lay three eggs, and on a few rare occasions they will lay four. These eggs have to be incubated for about forty-three days before they can hatch, and both parents will participate in the incubation. Even though two eggs are usually hatched, it is unusual for both eaglets, or baby eagles, to survive. One is usually born a couple days earlier than the other. This older, larger eaglet eats more than its share of food, and will repeatedly attack, often killing, the younger one. The young eagles are ready to fly when they are sixty days old. They stay near the nest, however, for an additional two weeks, and continue to be fed by the mother until they are ready to hunt for themselves. (Bologna 1978, Eagle 1988)
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Food Habits

The Imperial Eagle, like other birds of prey, is a carnivore. Its main source of food is small mammals, such as rabbits and susliks (ground squirrels in the genus Spermophilus). It will also eat reptiles, including some poisonous snakes, and other birds, such as young magpies, waders, and ducks. It has been known to feed on some carrion as well, carrying off lambs that were already dead. It generally hunts by slowly flying around the open areas near the forest where it resides, staying just above the treetop level, and scanning for prey. Its excellent eyesight makes spotting prey easy. When it sees a suitable prey item it will drop down on it, using its talons to kill and carry the prey. It will also, on a few occasions, perch high on a tree near the edge of the forest, and drop on its prey from there. (Channing 2000, Eagle 1988)
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In the 1960s, with just 30 pairs remaining, conservation efforts succeeded in increasing the population of the Spanish imperial eagle by a considerable amount. However, since 1994, the population has been allowed to decline again to just 160 pairs. There are several causes of this decline: habitat fragmentation due to deforestation for agricultural land and timber has disturbed breeding grounds, intentional poisoning on hunting reserves to reduce natural predators of game species, lead shot poisoning as a result of ingestion of game killed with bullets, and electrocution on power cables (2). Approximately 80% of eagles killed on power lines are female, causing a greater impact on this monogamous species than if equal numbers of males and females were killed (10).

The Spanish imperial eagle relies mainly on rabbits as prey, and following drops in rabbit abundance due to shooting and disease, food supplies have been limited causing reduced breeding success
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Range & population Aquila adalberti breeds in Spain in the Sierras of Guadarrama and Gredos, the plains of the Tajo and Tiétar rivers, the central hills of Extremadura, Montes de Toledo, the Alcudia valley, Sierra Morena and the Guadalquivir marshes, with occasional nesting in Salamanca and Málaga. In the 1960s, only 30 pairs remained, but recovery began in the early 1980s at a rate of five new breeding pairs per year up to 1994. After 1994, the population again started to decline from 148 pairs to 131 pairs in 19981, and breeding success in important areas such as the Guadalquivir marshes declined dramatically in the late 1990s1. However, this is thought to represent a brief levelling out of a positive trend, and the population is now believed to number around 200 breeding pairs5,8. The estimated population size has increased annually in Spain since 2000, and the species has recently recolonised Portugal (two pairs). Some of these increases can be attributed to more thorough searches within its range (notably in Andalucía), which is currently split into three subpopulations with relatively little interchange.
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