Interview with Francesco Petretti about the Short-toed Eagle in Italy

Date of the interview: 21 September 2010

In this interview Francesco Petretti talks about the biology and current conservation situation of the Short-toed Eagle in Italy. Francesco has been studying those birds for many years and also wrote a book about the Short-toed Eagle called L’aquila dei serpenti (more information about the book here).

Francesco Petretti

Francesco Petretti

Markus Jais: How many pairs of the Short-toed Eagle do currently breed in Italy?
Francesco Petretti: Italian breeding population consists of approximately 600-800 pairs.

Markus Jais: How has the population developed during the last decades?
Francesco Petretti: There are signals of a slowly increase and range expansion particularly in mountain areas of Appennines and Alps, while in some historical breeding territories I noticed a decrease in the nesting densitiy.

Markus Jais: Where are the density centres for the species in Italy?
Francesco Petretti: We can identify three main breeding areas :

  • Western Alps
  • Liguria and Northern Tuscany ( from Genova to Massa Carrara)
  • Maremma (Tyrrhenian hill system stretching from Southern Tuscany to Northern Latium)

Markus Jais: What habitat do the eagles prefer?
Francesco Petretti: Nesting territories occurs from 200 metres to 1200 metres of altitude, in different forest types, from Mediterranean Evergreen maquis and holm oak wood, to mixed deciduous forests and conifer woods.

Markus Jais: What is the preferred platform for nests?
Francesco Petretti: The birds build their own nest on Quercus ilex, Quercus cerris vith ivy, Juniper, Quercus suber and conifer trees.

Markus Jais: Is it known (for example via ring recoveries or satellite telemetry ) where Italien Short-toed Eagles spend the winter and which migration route they take?
Francesco Petretti: Most Short-toed Eagles are known to make a “circular migration” trough Gibraltar (Spain) to winter in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad. Few individuals are known to migrate to North Africa passing trough Sicily and Marettimo island.

Markus Jais: What species of snakes are the most important prey for the Short-toed Eagle in Italy?
Francesco Petretti: Coluber viridiflavus, Elaphe quatuorlineata, Elaphe longissima, Natrix natrix make the bulk of prey item. They are followed in smaller percentages by Vipers and other colubrid species.

Markus Jais: Are there known cases of Short-toed Eagles dying from snake poison?
Francesco Petretti: No.

Markus Jais: What other prey is taken?
Francesco Petretti: Lizards, toads, hares, rabbits,small birds, rodents.

Markus Jais: Is there competition for prey or nesting places with other raptors?
Francesco Petretti: The red and black kites feed on snakes, the same applies for the buzzard which preyes upon smaller specimens.

Markus Jais: How has the intensification of agriculture affected the Short-toed Eagle in Italy?
Francesco Petretti: Intensive farming leads to the destruction of important natural pastures and garigues utilized by the eagles for foraging.

Markus Jais: How many birds are electrocuted?
Francesco Petretti: few.

Markus Jais: Is illegal persecution, for example during migration, a problem?
Francesco Petretti: Yes, approx 50 individuals are shot every year.

Markus Jais: How is the conservation status for snakes in Italy?
Francesco Petretti: Snake populations are decreasing , many species are becoming rare, large specimens are scanty.

Short-toed Eagle with chick

Short-toed Eagle with chick
© Francesco Petretti

Markus Jais: Are there any conservation programs for the species in Italy?
Francesco Petretti: No, but 15% of the species range is included in protected areas.

Markus Jais: What can be done to improve the situation for the Short-toed Eagle in Italy?
Francesco Petretti: To preserve herbaceous ecosystems ( pastures, garigues, stony slopes) used by the eagle for foraging.

Markus Jais: How do you see the future of the Short-toed Eagle in Italy?
Francesco Petretti: The range seems to get wider, including mountain districts where the species was not breeding in the past, but in historical areas marginal pairs were wiped out due to urban development.

Markus Jais: What was your most amazing experience with Short-toed Italy?
Francesco Petretti: I have been studying Short-toed Eagles for 35 years, since the Seventies. I remember this amazing fact: I climbed on the nest tree to measure a three week old chicks, but the mother which was sitting on the nest, did not move. She stood up on her legs, opened the wings and started to beat them. I was forced to descend the tree. Markus Jais: Francesco, thank you very much for the interview.

More information

Francesco’s book about the Short-toed Eagle:
“L’aquila dei serpenti” – Francesco Petretti’s book