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Protecting the Steppe Eagle: Results of the 2023 Season

The steppe eagle is a large predator, noble, brave, but very vulnerable. For six years, The World Around You Siberian Wellness Foundation, in collaboration with professional ornithologists, has been dedicated to conserving the steppe eagle population. At the conclusion of each expedition season, we traditionally share the results.

Steppe eagle in Tuva

In July, an expedition led by our expert, Elena Schneider, conducted inspections on the nests of the steppe eagle in the Tuva Depression. While monitoring the saker falcon, several occupied eagle nests have already been found. Unfortunately, the July inspection revealed an alarmingly low breeding success rate for the steppe eagle in 2023.

Among the 19 monitored sites, seven breeding attempts led to the loss of clutches or chicks, with only three sites successfully raising a single chick each. Due to their smaller size than usual, only one chick was ringed as a consequence.

Similar to the saker falcons, the adverse weather conditions at the start of the breeding season contributed to these outcomes. Overall, there is a positive trend observed in the breeding population of steppe eagles in the Tuva Depression. The population shows ongoing signs of recovery following a total collapse in 2002. Between 2022 and 2023, approximately 10 to 13 breeding pairs were recorded within this territory. The recovery is slow, with an increase of 1 to 2 pairs per year, yet showing consistent growth. Experts observe the emergence of young birds exhibiting an atypical tree-nesting behavior within the Tuva population. The success of this shift will become evident in the years to come as observations continue. So far, of the eight attempts to rear offspring in trees, only three instances have led to successful fledging of chicks.

Steppe eagle in Khakassia

During fieldwork in Khakassia, a team of specialists surveyed new territories within the Askiz and Tashtypsky districts. The survey identified 11 breeding sites of the steppe eagle, eight of the Eastern imperial eagle, and two of the golden eagle in the area. Breeding attempts were observed at seven sites of the steppe eagle, yet only four pairs were successful, resulting in the departure of five eaglets. Therefore, ornithologists in Khakassia highlight a low reproductive success rate among steppe eagles in 2023.

Alongside breeding pairs, the survey in the Askiz district encountered numerous non-breeding individuals as well. Their clusters were observed near the village of Nizhnyaya Teya. This area is known for abundant livestock grazing, facilitating the eagles' ground squirrel prey, but it also sees high human presence due to extensive strawberry clearings, attracting people. Given the absence of inaccessible nesting sites for steppe eagles in the area, it remains attractive primarily for non-breeding birds.

The population of steppe eagles in Khakassia can be described as thriving and stable. Threats like power lines and human disturbance exist, but they currently do not exert a substantial impact on the population.

Steppe eagle in the Altai Republic: A new threat

Throughout the summer, the team led by our expert, Oleg Shiryaev, along with volunteers, inspected several steppe eagle nests. The most comprehensive monitoring of steppe eagle nests within the core of the Kosh-Agach population was conducted in 2022. This year, an analysis was performed comparing the dynamics of the steppe eagle and comparing indicators from 2022 to those of 2014. During this period, there was a population growth of 46%.

However, beginning in 2018, incidents of mass eagle fatalities emerged, significantly impacting reproductive success. The abandoned areas were reclaimed at the cost of young, inexperienced birds. But, this resulted in a notably low percentage of successful nests in 2019. In 2022, there were observations of chick and fledgling mortality in nests, accompanied by a high rate of clutch fatalities.

The analysis of the situation revealed that the clusters where eagles died were situated near livestock camps and settlements such as Zhana-Aul and Tashanta. In these places, in 2017-2018 and 2022, deratization measures were carried out by an anti-plague station (measures were taken to destroy rodents).

Hence, the previously stable Kosh-Agach steppe eagle population, which had shown a growth trend, now encounters a new threat: Deratization measures targeting rodents, the primary prey of these birds.

To address this new threat, the next steps should involve collecting blood samples from live and deceased chicks for toxicological analysis. Gathering such data will enable us to assess the adverse effects of the poisons used on the steppe eagle population. This information can be vital in holding responsible parties accountable and halting this harmful practice, considering alternative methods in combating the spread of plague in the region.

Monitoring the destiny of the chicks

As part of the project, ornithologists persist in tracking the destiny of chicks previously equipped with GPS and GSM trackers, observing their migration routes and behaviors. In 2023, an additional four eagles were fitted with tracking devices in the southern region of the Altai Krai. By October, researchers had obtained data concerning the genetic determination of the eagles' sexes. Three of the birds were identified as males – namely, Ish and brothers Kanai and Shalobai – while one, named Zere, was determined to be female. They are all currently successfully migrating toward their wintering grounds.

The long-term results of the steppe eagle conservation project were showcased at the III International Scientific and Practical Conference "The Palearctic Eagles: Study and Protection," which was organized by our experts in Kazakhstan this autumn.

We continue to protect the steppe eagle together! Join us! Find out how to help the Red Book feathered predators right now!

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