Interview with Daróczi J. Szilárd and Zeitz Róbert about the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Romania

Date of the interview: 28 October 2011

In this interview Zeitz Róbert and Daróczi J. Szilárd talk about the biology and conservation of the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Romania. They work with the “Milvus Group” for the conservation of the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Romania and are currently working on a LIFE project for the species.

Robert Zeitz with young Lesser Spotted Eagle

Robert Zeitz with young Lesser Spotted Eagle
© Kosa Ferenc

Markus Jais: How many pairs of Lesser Spotted Eagles do currently breed in Romania?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: Between 2005 and 2006 “Milvus Group” Bird and Nature Protection Association carried out a country-wide Lesser Spotted Eagle census in Romania. As a result of this study the Romanian population is estimated at 2.000-2.300 pairs. The Carpathians are one of the most important strongholds of the species and hold 1.545-1.930 breeding pears. The population is not uniformly distributed throughout the country; main strongholds are in Transylvania, western Romania and eastern slopes of the Eastern Carpathians. Small populations exist also in Eastern, South-eastern and Southern Romania.

Daroczi Szilard with a satellite tagged juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle

Daroczi Szilard with a satellite tagged juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle
© Sebastian Bugariu

Markus Jais: How has the population developed during the last 30 years?
Zeitz Róbert: Due to the fact that our study range covers a small percentage of the breeding area we can’t certainly judge the whole population trend of the species in Romania. According to our data regarding the breeding population dynamics in the last 15 year in Transylvania (which covers 280-300 pairs) we consider that is fairly stabile. Probably this trend is general for whole Romanian population. The former population estimations (Weber et al. 1994: 100-200 pairs, Munteanu, D. 2002: 500-1.000 pairs) were not realistic because they didn’t have any survey background and we don’t consider them valid.

Markus Jais: Which habitat do the eagles use?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: In hilly areas Lesser Spotted Eagles generally prefer old oak-hornbeam forests, often situated in valleys. On foothills and higher altitudes eagles prefer beech, mixed, but also spruce forest. In lowland the species breeds mainly in floodplains. In all habitat types the eagles prefer for feeding open fields as wet grasslands, grazing fields and extensive agriculture land.

Adult satellite tagged Lesser Spotted Eagle

Adult satellite tagged Lesser Spotted Eagle
© Sebastian Bugariu

Markus Jais: What tree species are used mostly for the nests and is there a difference in the breeding success between the different tree species?
Zeitz Róbert: The bulk of the population breeds in hilly areas where the dominant old tree species is oak (Quercus sp.). In highland Lesser Spotted Eagles breeds mainly on beech and spruce, scarce on oaks. In floodplains the favourite tree species used for nesting is the ash. Generally the spruce can’t support large size nests as much as deciduous species, resulting nest collapse but we don’t have data regarding the correlation between breeding success and nest tree species.

Markus Jais: What is the main food of Lesser Spotted Eagles in Romania?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: The mains food species of the eagles in Romania is the Common Vole (Microtus arvalis). In case of most of the couples this food means 70-80% of the menu. Of course, other rodents (water vole, mouse species) often occur in the eagles’ food, too. The percentage of different frog species is most significant in early spring compared to the whole breeding season. Very often adult birds eat insects (crickets and grasshoppers) while walking on the ground. In case of some “food specialist” pairs the percent of lizards can be significant, too.

Daroczi Szilard with satellite tagged adult Lesser Spotted Eagle

Daroczi Szilard with satellite tagged adult Lesser Spotted Eagles
© Kosa Ferenc

Markus Jais: Is there competition for food or nest sites with other raptors like White-tailed Eagles or Common Buzzards?
Zeitz Róbert: In Romania the White-tailed Eagle is not a competitor of the Lesser Spotted Eagle because the food spectrum and breeding range is not overlapping. The Common Buzzard shares the same habitat and food supply with the Lesser Spotted Eagle and theoretically can be considered a competitor. The eagle’s strategy is to hunt on the most available and abundant prey species (Common Vole). This might be an explanation that the competition is minimized between these two species. These two species often lay eggs in each others nests. They are very active nest builders therefore the nest competition is not significant.

Markus Jais: What is known about the dispersal and movements of juvenile, immature and adult birds?
Zeitz Róbert: The fidelity of the adult birds to the nesting sites is very high; they are present in their territories even in years when they don’t breed. After the breeding season they start migrating straight to their wintering grounds. Immature birds are vagrants, often spending the summer in distant areas. One of the second year old bird tagged by us with satellite transmitter spend the summer in eastern Turkey. During the breeding season in highly suitable areas immature and subadults may occur individually or in small groups. We don’t possess information about the origin of these birds. Based on our data on juveniles fitted with a satellite transmitter in Romania, we know that these birds after fledging stay for a long period in the close vicinity of the nest. The migration starts right after this period without any dispersal movement.

Robert Zeitz building an artificial nest for Lesser Spotted Eagle

Robert Zeitz building an artificial nest for Lesser Spotted Eagles
© Daroczi J. Szilard

Markus Jais: Are the eagles threatened by illegal persecution in Romania or on migration?
Zeitz Róbert: We have information about shooting migrating raptors in the Middle East on the Lesser Spotted Eagle’s flyway. Recently we have been informed about one satellite tagged juvenile bird from Romania which was killed in Zambia by superstitious locals. The colour and metal ring together with the transmitter was used for black magic purposes.

Markus Jais: Are electrocution and wind farms a problem for the eagles in Romania or on migration?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: Medium voltage electric poles are often used for perching during hunting and migration by different raptor species, including eagles. We don’t know yet the level of this potential threat in case of Lesser Spotted Eagle, but in some areas it could be important.
We don’t know yet the real negative impact of the wind farms in case of raptors and other soaring birds in Romania. At the moment we have numerous wind farms only in Dobrogea which is the most important migration route for thousands of raptors and not only. There is a plan to increase the number of the wind farms all over Dobrogea which will be definitely a real problem for the large birds. So far we have knowledge about two adult Lesser Spotted Eagle killed during autumn migration by a wind turbine.

Lesser Spotted Eagle chick in the nest

Lesser Spotted Eagle chick in the nest
© Robert_Zeitz

Markus Jais: What influence does agriculture and forestry have on the Lesser Spotted Eagle and can this get worse with a more intensive agriculture and forestry in the future?
Zeitz Róbert: In Romania nowadays agriculture practices are appropriate for the species needs in most areas inhabited by the eagle. There is a threat that this situation will be changed in the future according to the recommended agriculture schemes. As a consequence, mosaic structure of the landscapes will be transformed into monocultures. Eagles switch between feeding areas with different destinations during the breeding season. In the monoculture and large scales parcels these opportunities will be lost. In Romania there is a trend of decreasing grazing livestock, which leads to loss of grazing fields and grasslands, crucial feeding grounds for the eagle. Unfortunately in Romania forestry practices don’t consider the conservation of forest living and protected to be important . The selecting cutting of old trees even in the breeding season is one of the most important negative factors causing habitat loss and disturbance alike. As the surface of suitable forest decreases the pressure on habitat loss caused by deforestation will be more accentuated.

Markus Jais: What other threats to Lesser Spotted Eagles do exist in Romania?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: Occasionally shooting, nest robbing or indirect poisoning can occur in different part of the country.

Markus Jais: How much of the habitat currently used by the breeding pairs is protected? Are the areas around the nests protected from forestry work during the breeding season?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: The Natura 2000 network in Romania covers around 25% of the national breeding population of Lesser Spotted Eagle. So far the conservation status of the species inside Natura 2000 sites is practically very similar to the situation outside. The breeding range of the species is not overlapping with areas of higher conservation status (National Parks and Biosphere Reserves). We developed a methodology of creating whole year valid buffers around Lesser Spotted Eagle nests. This process is still in discussion stage with forestry authorities.

Lesser Spotted Eagle habitat in central Transylvania

Lesser Spotted Eagle habitat in central Transylvania
© Hgyeli_Zsolt

Markus Jais: There is a LIFE project for the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Romania. What is it all about?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: The aim of the project is to create a set of agriculture and forestry management measures which will allow the long term conservation of the species in Romania. The name of the project is “LIFE08 NAT/RO/000501-Conservation of Aquila pomarina in Romania” and it was started in 2010 with the partnership of the Regional Environmental Protection Agency Sibiu, Association for Bird and Nature Protection “Milvus Group” and The Romanian Ornithological Society. For further details please consult the webpage:

Markus Jais: Do you work together with conservationists in other countries to protect the Lesser Spotted Eagle?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: Yes, we have collaboration with other eagle conservationists from different European countries as Slovakia, Ukraine, Estonia, Hungary, etc. Before long, together with the entire Lesser Spotted Eagle specialists we will update and upgrade the European Lesser Spotted Eagle Action Plan.

Lesser Spotted Eagle habitat in central Transylvania

Lesser Spotted Eagle habitat in central Transylvania
© Robert Zeitz

Markus Jais: What needs to be done so that the population can have a future in Romania?
Zeitz Róbert: We hope that one of our Life project products, the Lesser Spotted Eagle Friendly Habitat Management Guideline (LSEFHMG) will be accepted by the Ministry of Environment and will create the legislative background for our purpose. The implementation of this legislation will be the key to a long term conservation of the species.

Markus Jais: How can people like bird watchers and others interested in nature help protect the Lesser Spotted Eagles?
Zeitz Róbert: Milvus Group will set forth a database where beside our group members other birdwatchers and biologist can introduce data about their field observations. This data will improve our knowledge about the distribution, habitat preference and also about some potential threatening factors of the species in different regions of the country.

Lesser Spotted Eagle habitat in central Transylvania

Lesser Spotted Eagle habitat in central Transylvania
© Robert Zeitz

Markus Jais: How do you see the future of the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Romania?
Zeitz Róbert: At the moment Romania possess 22,2% of the EU, and 10% of the world population of the species which seems to be stable. Most likely this situation will change into unfavourable direction for eagles because the predicted global developing process. Even if the population will decrease in the future, we believe, that the important actual population size and the divers Romanian habitats will always insure the survival of a globally significant percentage of the species.

Markus Jais: What was your most amazing experience with Lesser Spotted Eagles?
Daróczi J. Szilárd: We think we can never learn enough about this species. All of our fieldtrips when we studied eagle behaviour offered us compelling experiences. Probably being a witness of the growth of the second chick which was adopted and successfully reintroduced was the most amazing experience we had with the species.

More information – Conservation of Aquila pomarina in Romania

Lesser Spotted Eagle – Flagship species for the Carpathians