Spanish Imperial Eagle in Andalusia in 2018 & the first satellite-tagged bird in Morocco

By MaghrebOrnitho | 29 December 2018

The Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) in Andalusia is doing very well. The breeding population of the species once again exceeded its maximum historical record and expands through the Betic mountain range.

With this population increase in Andalusia and the Iberian Peninsula in general, an increasing number of immature Spanish Imperial Eagles visit Morocco to winter. In this context, an immature bird was found and subsequently fitted with a GPS transmitter. It’s a first for Morocco and the continent.

Status of the Spanish Imperial Eagle in Andalusia in 2018

The breeding population of Spanish Imperial Eagle in Andalusia consists of a minimum of 112 pairs in 2018 (an increase of 2.7% from 2017). “This figure represents the highest historical record registered in the region” said the Ministry of Environment and Territorial Planning of the Regional Government of Andalusia who carried out the monitoring.

The population has grown mainly in Sierra Morena where there are already 94 breeding pairs. These results confirm the positive trend shown by the species since 1989, with a statistically significant increase of 5.8% year-on-year. 

For the fourth time in recent history the Spanish Imperial Eagle population exceeds the limit of 100 pairs in Andalusia. This number is considered the minimum population size in order to achieve a favorable conservation status following the criteria set by the ‘EU Birds Directive’. In addition, despite the unfavourable weather conditions this year characterised by persistent and heavy rainfall in March and April, 129 chicks have been born of which 118 have successfully fledged.

Range expansion where the European rabbit is increasing

There has been also a continuous increase in the distribution area of the Spanish Imperial Eagle in Andalusia (new breeding territories are shown in red in the map below). For example, a second breeding pair settled this year in Granada, where there was no record of successful nesting since decades before it was colonized in 2017.

In addition to the already established pairs, there are now four nesting territories in eastern Andalusia and more specifically in the foothills of the Betic mountain range. It’s in this area where the European rabbit – the main prey of the Spanish Imperial Eagle – has shown a remarkable increase in recent years. On the other hand, in areas where the European rabbit was traditionally very abundant, such as Doñana, there was a population decline year after year. Therefore, there is a shift from the traditional breeding areas to new and more favorable areas due to the availability of food resources. In this sense, the records of young Spanish Imperial Eagles in the Betic System are becoming more frequent, so probably a fraction of these eagles will end up settling in this area of great potential and forming new nesting territories.

Spanish Imperial Eagle range in Andalusia, southern Spain. Red grids colonized in 2018. (Junta de Andalucía).
Spanish Imperial Eagle range in Andalusia, southern Spain. Red grids colonized in 2018. (Junta de Andalucía).

Despite the excellent global data shown by the monitoring of the species in Andalusia, one of the main priorities of the Regional Recovery Plan of the species remains the consolidation of the population nuclei of Doñana and Cádiz. Both these small populations do not show similar increase to that of the rest of the population of Sierra Morena. The population of Cádiz, which is the result of a successful reintroduction program, is still being reinforced with the release of chicks rescued from the field. In this regard, during the breeding season of 2018 seven chicks have been released through the ‘hacking technique’ in that region.

First-ever satellite-tagging of a Spanish Imperial Eagle in Morocco

On 17 November 2018, a Spanish Imperial Eagle was recovered by the Moroccan Association for Falconry and Raptors Conservation (AMFCR) in the Bouznika region, western Morocco. The bird, a young female born in 2017, was weak, distressed and affected by coccidiosis.

With the agreement and close collaboration with the Moroccan Forestry Administration (HCEFLCD), the AMFCR treated the eagle and then put it in an aviary for its rehabilitation.

The eagle was then fitted with a GPS transmitter and marked with a yellow Darvic ring ‘M06’ by the AMFCR in collaboration with the HCEFLCD, the Ministry of Environment and Territorial Planning of Junta de Andalucía and Migres Foundation. The eagle was successfully released on 17 December in the Bouznika area. After its release, the eagle was subsequently observed in the nearby region of Benslimane by Karim Rousselon, the president of the AMFCR.

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Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti), fitted with a GPS transmitter and ready to fly, Bouznika, Morocco, 17 Dec. 2018.
Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti), fitted with a GPS transmitter and ready to fly, Bouznika, Morocco, 17 Dec. 2018 (AMFCR).
Ringing and satellite-tagging the Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bouznika, 17 Dec. 2018. From right to left: Karim Rousselon (AMFCR), Jose Rafael Garrido (Junta de Andalucia) and Carlos Torralvo (Fundación Migres).
Ringing and satellite-tagging the Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bouznika, 17 Dec. 2018.
From right to left: Karim Rousselon (AMFCR), Jose Rafael Garrido (Junta de Andalucia) and Carlos Torralvo (Fundación Migres).

See the website of the AMFCR for more photos and details about this eagle.

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