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Bonelli’s Eagle Protection – 2018 report



2018 the GTR organized three camps aimed to safeguarding some of Bonelli’s eagles’ (Aquila fasciata) breeding sites particularly exposed to the risk of illegal looting.

This report summarizes the monitoring and surveillance activities carried out from January to July.

Camp 1, camp coordinator: Angelo Scuderi

was carried out, as in previous years, in the province of ​​Agrigento which is of fundamental importance for the conservation of the Bonelli’s eagle, present here with five pairs concentrated in a limited territory: it is the highest population density found in Sicily. In the recent past, three of the five controlled sites have repeatedly been looted by traffickers of birds of prey.

Monitoring started in January. In February the occupation of the sites was noted by the five known pairs, one of which did not lay eggs.

Surveillance activities began on the 10th March and ended on the 26th May: almost all the brooding period and the entire rearing period of the eaglets was ensured.

Numerous camera traps were installed (up to four per site) in the access routes to the mountain face occupied by the pairs in reproduction. This surveillance system has proved to be particularly useful since it has a deterrent effect on ill-intentioned persons and allows the monitoring of a large number of nests with the use of a few staff units.

In a first period, the surveillance activities were carried out by one or two experienced staff members, who were later joined by volunteers from various Italian cities, whose contribution becomes very important in the most delicate phase of the field activities, when the risk of theft by poachers of the twenty-five days old nestlings is maximum.

Overall, we had five fledglings from the four controlled sites, three of which have been equipped with satellite transmitters as part of the collaboration with the Life ConRaSi project.

In one of the four controlled sites a case of late brood replacement was observed: after the death of the first chick, which we detected at the end of March, the eagles carried out a second reproductive cycle, breeding an eaglet which flew-off at the end of July .

Camp 2, camp coordinator: Manuel Zafarana

supervised by LIPU Niscemi volunteers in the province of Caltanissetta.

The preliminary monitoring activities, started on January 25th, confirmed the absence of breeding pairs in two of Bonelli’s eagle’s sites occupied in recent years. The focus, therefore, was on an another site, which was unsuccessfully occupied in 2017. On 15 March, a chick was observed for the first time: starting from this moment the continuous surveillance was immediately organized, choosing an inconspicuous position to avoid disturbing situations.

On the 10th and the 12th April the volunteers reported the presence of a suspicious individual. Immediately, in agreement with Dott. Massimiliano Di Vittorio (Life ConRaSi), it was decided to place two more camera traps close to the nest. In total, the site had five cameras traps.

On April 21st, 2018 a camera trap showed a person intent on descending the mountain face with a rope to reach the nest. The action was carried out at a time when the volunteer present was at the entrance of the state-owned area, unable to advance with his vehicle due to the muddy conditions of the rural road. An inspection, carried out on the same day, made it possible to ascertain that the chick of about 25 days old, had been stolen by a poacher. From this moment on, investigations were carried out and are still under way, by the Roman unit team of CITES Carabinieri.

The attention of the volunteers concentrated on a second site, monitored since 2011. The nesting ended positively with the flight of an eaglet, which occurred on 22nd May.

Given the modest commitment required for the sole monitoring of this site, it was decided to move many volunteers to other camps.

Camp 3, camp coordinator: Saverio Cacopardi

was carried out in areas falling within the territories of Catania and Syracuse.

The camp activities of surveillance started on February 12th, the date in which the hatching female was observed for the first time and control of the area was progressively intensified. Initially surveillance shifts were organized on weekends (during which, according to the experience of previous years, the anthropic disturbance deriving from leisure time activities is higher). Later, from the 23rd March to the 3rd June, the presence of at least one volunteer was guaranteed every day from dawn to dusk.
In April and May, the volunteers remained even at night, camping in tents, when, due to the full moon, the conditions of visibility were such as to allow the descent to the nest. Along the access roads to the nest, in correspondence of obligatory passages, three photo-traps were placed.
On the 27th March the birth of a chick was observed, and remained in the nest for 68 days. The young eagle is still followed in its movements by satellite transmitter, applied on May 9th, by the Life ConRaSi project.
For the first time, a site of Bonelli’s Eagle pinpointed in 2017 in the territory of Syracuse, reachable in a short time from the main location of the camp, was checked (2-3 days weekly). Two eaglets, born between the 19th and the 22nd March, were successfully bred and fledged between the 25th and the 26th May

It should be noted how, in camps 1 and 3, during the surveillance activities the presence of an individual evidently interested in birds of prey has been repeatedly reported: it was a falconer known for being caught red-handed, in 2010, stealing eaglets in the nest. The frequent presence of people involved in the traffic of birds of prey in the surrounding of reproductive sites, often easily accessible, confirms that we must not lower our guard: without the safeguard measures implemented by the GTR, many of the Bonell’s eagles’ nests would be systematically stolen as happened until to 2010.
In addition to activities related to surveillance camps, in 2018, as in previous years, the GTR has engaged in extensive research on the territory aimed at the census of the entire Sicilian population of Bonelli’s eagles. The pairs known at present are altogether 45, 27 pairs had a successful reproduction season, while 41 eaglets flew off their nests.

Bonelli’s Eagle Protection Camp 2018

UPDATED LOG as of 24/07/2018

Total monitored nesting places495345
Nesting places monitored for the first time641
Occupied nesting places (BE adults in breeding behavior)414340
Nesting places with eggs laid273434
Number of born chicks283343
Nesting places with successfully fledged juveniles
Nesting places which failed (incubation interrupted, no chicks born, dead chick/s)11144
Nesting places with verified eggs/chicks theft201
Nesting places where one member of the pair has changed since the previous year4n.d.2
Fledged juveniles272941
Monitoring inspections to nesting places (excluding guarding activities)n.d.290n.d.
Number of full time (daytime) guarding camps553
Number of volunteers involved223144

The data collected in the summary table is edited in cooperation with the Life ConRaSi project with whom collaboration dates back to 2016

The activities described were only possible thanks to the donations of the following Associations:
STIFTUNG PRO ARTENVIELFALT (Pro Biodiversity Foundation)

We also thank the environmental association Altura and Ecologia Applicata srl.

At last, but not least, a big thank you to all the volunteers who have gone through this tiring, but definitely stimulating, “adventure”.

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