Interview with Matthias Schmidt (Birdlife Austria) about CORO-SKAT (Conservation Of Raptors and Owls), an Austrian-Slovakian project for the protection of raptors, storks and owls

Date of interview: 10 April 2013

The border area Austria/Slovakia belongs the ornithologically most important areas in Central Europe. It’s home of the Saker Falkon, Eastern Imperial Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Black Stork and it’s other species and their protection is of European importance.
In this interview, Matthias Schmidt from Birdlife Austria talks about the CORO-SKAT (Conservation Of Raptors and Owls) project.

Matthias Schmidt

Matthias Schmidt
© Matthias Schmidt

Markus Jais:What is the Coro-Skat project and who is involved?
Matthias Schmidt: Coro-Skat stands for Conservation of Raptors and Owls in Slovakia and Austria. It is a ETZ-project of the European Union. Involved are in Slovakia the raptor conservation organisation RPS and in Austria Auring and Birdlife Austria.
The goal is to improve the knowledge about the distribution of the target species and to do specific conservation measures for those species. The project area covers the Weinviertel in Lower Austria (north-eastern Austria) and the Zahorie region in Slovakia.

Markus Jais: Which raptor species are part of the project?
Matthias Schmidt: Target species are White-tailed Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Red Kite, Black Kite, European Honey-Buzzard, Western Marsh Harrier , Montague’s Harrier, Saker Falcon and Eagle Owl. In Slovakia Little Own and Barn Owln and in Austria White and Black Storks are also target species.

Markus Jais: What threats for raptors do exist in the project area?
Matthias Schmidt: Because the project area is quite big, the threats are many and different. Large threats are illegal persecution and the rise of wind power. From until now 5 Eastern Imperial Eagles that were fitted with transmitters, at least one and probably two more were a victim of illegal persecution. That gives an idea about how big the problem is.
In addition, the ongoing loss of habitat due to the intensification in agriculture and forestry is probably the biggest threat. That affects both the breeding and foraging areas.

Markus Jais: How is the population trend for White-tailed and Eastern Imperial Eagle in the project area?
Matthias Schmidt: For both species there is a positive development both in the project area as also across Austria. In 2012 there were 8 pairs of Eastern Imperial Eagls in the project areas (7 in Austria, 1 in Slovakia). 6 pairs were successful with 12 successfully fledged young. The situation is similar for the White-tailed Eagle – there were 7 breeding pairs in the project area in 2012.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Eastern Imperial Eagle with satellite transmitter
© Matthias Schmidt

Markus Jais: What is done to help the eagles?
Matthias Schmidt: For all species in the project it is an important goal to inform and educate land owners and users. For that a brochure with information about nest protection has been designed and printed and distributed to local administrations and land users. We try to educate people about the importance of old trees in the forest and the agricultural areas. In addition individual old trees are protected from harvest and artificial nest platforms are built.

Markus Jais: How is the situation for the Saker Falcon?
Matthias Schmidt: The situation for the Sakerfalken is very positiv. In 2012 26 pairs could be document for Austria. 38 young fledged.

Markus Jais: Which conservation efforts are there for the Saker Falcon?
Matthias Schmidt: In a joint project with Austrian Power Grid and FiWi ((Forschungsinstitut für Wildtierkunde und Ökologie) nest platforms are put on large pylons. Beside public education, no other measures are currently undertaken.

Eastern Imperial Eagle chicks

Eastern Imperial Eagle chicks
© Matthias Schmidt

Markus Jais:What is done for the kite and harrier species?
Matthias Schmidt: Similar to the eagles, the main effort is on educating land owners and users. Information about nest protect and the establishment of conservation zones around the nests are supposed to help those species.

Markus Jais: How is the situation of the Eagle Own in the project area?
Matthias Schmidt: In principle positive – but we only have specific knowledge locally.

Markus Jais:Which species have been fitted with a transmitter?
Matthias Schmidt: In Austria 5 Eastern Imperial Eagles have been fitted with satellite GPS transmitters and in Slovakia 5 Eastern Imperial Eagles, 1 Red Kite and 1 Eagle Own have been fitted with a VHF transmitter. The saddest – but also very immportant – result is that illegal persecution still has a dramatic effect on raptors in Austria. Loosing 3 out of 5 birds within 2 years to illegal persecution is a very high rate. That has both surprised and shocked us. In addtion we could collect important data about the dispersal of young and habitat use. A detailed analysis has not yet been done.

Markus Jais: How important is the Natura 2000 Network of the EU for the project?
Matthias Schmidt: The Natura 2000 Network is very important for the project. The majority of the nests are within Natura 2000 areas. The future development of the raptor populations will significantly depend on the implementation of conservation measures for those areas. Particularly in Lower Austria not much has been done for conservation by the official administration and we see a decline in habitat quality in those areas. But we hope that we – together with other NGOS – can change the thinking in the administrations and among politicians. Project like CORO-Skat give us the scientific data to support our political work.

Markus Jais:Is there a cooperation with the hunters?
Matthias Schmidt: In some regions we cooperate with the hunters. The hunters control the nests and let us know if there are problems. With that we hope that – at least locally – to sensibilise hunters to raptor conservation. Fortunately at least some hunters then regard the eagles as “their” eagle and are happy when everything is ok with the eagles.

Markus Jais: How to the raptor conservation efforts affect other birds and mammals?
Matthias Schmidt: Because raptors are at the top of the food chain, their protection of course also requires and improvement for the other members of the food chain. Examples are fallow land and nest protection zones which are also refuges for other animals. From those efforts, not only birds and mammals but many organisms benefit.

Markus Jais: How do conservation efforts for the Great Bustard affect raptors?
Matthias Schmidt: For sure the conservation efforts for the Great Bustard have a positive effect. One important aspects is the marking of power lines which reduce the collision risk also for raptors. The conservation and creation of fallow land also protect important habitat for raptors.

Markus Jais: What can birdwatchers and other people interested in nature do to help the project?
Matthias Schmidt: For our work it is important to know the distribution of the target species very well. Although we have monitoring programs, bird watchers can help us by telling us about their observations to close the gaps are minimise them. We therefore want to ask all bird watchers to tell us about there observations via or via Email.

Markus Jais: What was your most amazing experience with raptors?
Matthias Schmidt: That is difficult There are several amazing experiences. Very impressive was a close encounter with a White-tailed Eagle in the Danube riparian forest. The bird flew just a few meters above me. That was very impressive.

More information

Conservation of Raptors and Owls – Slovakia-Austria (Deutsch).