Eastern Imperial Eagle population soars in Austria


BirdLife Austria says the country's population of Eastern Imperial Eagle is now the highest it has been since the bird of prey returned there in 1999.

Previously, the eagle had been absent from Austria for nearly 190 years due to heavy persecution. BirdLife Austria has been closely monitoring the Eastern Imperial Eagle population since the birds first returned and their fieldwork reveals that 42 pairs were holding territory in the country in 2023.

Illegal persecution still threatens Austria's Eastern Imperial Eagle population, but 2023 saw the highest number of territorial pairs for over 200 years (Kuzey Cem Kulaço─člu).

Targeted conservation efforts in Hungary and Slovakia are credited with aiding the eagle's recovery in the Pannonian region and reversing its extinction in Austria, which is at the western limit of the bird's range.

Along with locating and recording territories, BirdLife Austria has employed measures to counter illegal persecution and disturbance. Young Eastern Imperial Eagles have been fitted with satellite tags to record their movements and a special effort has been made to understand drivers of mortality.

Data from the tags show that illegal persecution is the biggest threat for young Eastern Imperial Eagles hatched in Austria, but collisions with infrastructure are also common.

Austria's imperial eagles breed in floodplain forests and in the dry hills in the Weinviertel region, as well as in open farmland. However, birds nesting in agricultural landscapes see lower breeding success due to disturbance. Hares, ground squirrels, hamsters and birds such as pigeons and larks are key food items.

BirdLife Austria fieldwork also revealed an instance of a pair of Eastern Imperial Eagles taking over a Common Buzzard nest and 'adopting' the buzzards' chick when it hatched.

Since 1999, Eastern Imperial Eagle has spread 85 km west within Austria and even reached the Danube. The majority of the Austrian population exists in the province of Lower Austria, which only saw eagles colonise in 2008.

With illegal persecution still a serious issue, BirdLife Austria has ramped up efforts to tackle crime against the protected bird through the PannonEagle LIFE, a project bringing together neighbouring countries to secure the future of the eagle in the region.