Immature Eastern Imperial Eagle, © Frank Kovacs
Date of the interview: May 2009 with updates in August 2009
For a few years now, Eastern Imperial Eaglees have been breeding again in Austria. In this interview, Gabor Wichmann from Birdlife Austria explains the current situation of the Eastern Imperial Eagle in Austria.
Markus Jais: What is the current situation of the Eastern Imperial Eagle in Austria?
Gabor Wichmann: There are 4-5 pairs, close to the borders in Hungary and Slovakia there are another 5-8 pairs, who have a – sometimes large – part of their hunting territory in Austria. We also estimate the number of non-breeders at 20-40. This year, 4 successful pairs raised 9 chicks.
Markus Jais: What habitats does the Eastern Imperial Eagle use in Austria?
Gabor Wichmann: In principle, they live in agriculturally used steppes in eastern Austria. Important is enough prey, especially small game. The Eastern Imperial Eagle is surely one of those species that benefitets from the increase of fallow land after Austria joined the EU.
Markus Jais: What threats do Eastern Imperial Eagles face in Austria?
Gabor Wichmann: Here, possible changes in the agriculture most be mentioned first. Intensification and pressure by energy crops can be at the cost of fallow land. And this will lead to a decline in prey species.
Unfortunately, illegal persecution must also be mentioned (shooting, poisoned baits).
Missing suitable trees for breeding is another factor which forces the eagles to use unstable nest sites. Windmills can, if constructed in the homerange of the animals, cause serious problems.
Markus Jais: What projects is Birdlife Austria doing to help the Eastern Imperial Eagle?
Gabor Wichmann: Monitoring, controlling breeding pairs, guarding and securing nests. In some places, artificial nests are built. Securing of current and future trees with nests. Public education (for the generall public and also for land owners).
Markus Jais: How do you see the future of the Eastern Imperial Eagle in Austria?
Gabor Wichmann: At the moment, it looks satisfying. But the trends in rural development will be crucial. If there will be an intensification of the agriculture (loss of fallow land, removal of hedgerows and small woods and therefore of nest trees), this can lead to a decline very fast.
Markus Jais: What was your most amazing experience with Eastern Imperial Eagles?
Gabor Wichmann: The most beautiful experience was the fledging of 3 young Imperial Eagles, which left their nest two weeks prior to fledging. When I frist saw they all three of them flying, it was an incredible sight. We watched them 2 weeks and, if necessary, put them on bales of straw or branches.
Gabor, thank you very much for the interview.