Greater Spotted Eagle


Eagles have altered their migration routes across Ukraine to avoid war zones, with scientists noting changes likely due to damaged or destroyed habitats.

Researchers observed that the Greater Spotted Eagles detoured around artillery fire, jets, tanks, and troop concentrations. These eagles migrate through Ukraine each spring, traveling from Greece and the Sudd wetland in South Sudan to breeding grounds in Belarus.

GPS data from tagged eagles was analysed following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, a period marked by intense fighting in northern Ukraine as Russian forces advanced from Belarus to Kyiv.

The study, conducted by scientists from the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the British Trust for Ornithology, was published in the journal Current Biology.

“The war in Ukraine has had a devastating impact on people and the environment. Our findings provide a rare window into how conflicts affect wildlife,” said lead author Charlie Russell, a postgraduate researcher at the University of East Anglia.

The Greater Spotted Eagle, classified as a vulnerable species, is a large bird of prey with brownish plumage.

Researchers began tracking these eagles with GPS devices in 2017, but the outbreak of war added an unexpected dimension to their study. The findings revealed significant deviations from the eagles’ usual migration routes, with the birds spending less time at traditional stopover sites in Ukraine or avoiding them entirely.

Consequently, the eagles traveled an additional 52 miles (85 km) on average. For migrating birds, stopover sites are crucial for food, water, and shelter.

“No doubt about it. I think the take-home story is that the conflict in Ukraine is fundamentally disrupting the migratory ecology of this species,” said Dr Jim Reynolds, Assistant Professor in Ornithology and Animal Conservation at the University of Birmingham, who was independent from the study.

These changes likely delayed their arrival at breeding grounds and increased their energy expenditure, potentially impacting their breeding success.

“For a vulnerable species like this, anything that disrupts breeding performance is a major problem. As a conservation biologist, you worry about that in a massive way.”

Although all tagged eagles survived, researchers believe the altered migration experience may have affected their ability to breed successfully.



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