How the “King of the skies” loses his kingdom on the ground

27 February.2016

Say the word ‘eagle’ and the associations that come to mind are ‘soaring’, ‘majestic’, ‘eagle eye’ and ‘king of the skies’. ‘Eagle’ comes from the French aigle, which is derived from the Latin aquila (aquilus meaning ‘dark or blackish’, referring to the birds’ feathers or aquilo meaning ‘north wind’).
For centuries, eagles were respected for their strength and endurance as a predator. They were seen as a form or messenger of immortal Gods or royalty – from Zeus in Greek mythology to his Roman counterpart Jupiter, from Norse mythology to Celtic folklore, from Roman emperors to Catholic kings, and the Torah.

Europe and Central Asia – which together with Africa are the habitat for 46 of the 60 eagle species – have been fascinated by the birds for centuries (Albania, in its national language, is called Shqipëria or 'Land of the Eagles'). As an icon of courage, strength and immortality, the eagle became a symbol of military power and victory in Ancient Rome, appearing on banners, coins and other insignia. Various ancient rulers and empires – including Napoleon I, the Byzantine Empire, Charlemagne and Prussia – adopted an eagle on their heraldry.

But after the Industrial Revolution, hunting and rearing livestock for commerce rather than survival became more common. People feared these birds would kill domesticated animals or species reared specifically for hunting. The ammunition and industrial poison industries began to grow, making it easier for ordinary people to kill birds of prey. 

On paper, the eagle continues to be popular among nations because of the lasting impact of the Roman Empire and its successors, the Eastern Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. Five countries — Albania, Germany, Austria, Mexico and Kazakhstan—have the Golden Eagle as their national bird. Currently, 28 countries have an eagle on their coat of arms, including 13 European and Central Asian ones.

But on the ground, a number of eagle species are of conservation concern. The illegal use of poison baits is among the most important direct threats in Europe to the Spanish Imperial Eagle, the Eastern Imperial Eagle and the Greater Spotted Eagle, as well as other birds of prey such as the Red Kite and the Egyptian Vulture.

Many more eagles and other birds of prey such as vultures are killed accidentally when they ingest insecticides or rodenticides meant for pests, or eat the poisoned pests themselves. And of course, there are those who are purposely persecuted and illegally killed as predators that affect the population of species hunted as game.

There is clearly a discrepancy between how the eagle is portrayed in folklore and how it is perceived by people today. While good nature legislation and effective conservation efforts (often by BirdLife partners) in the EU have succeeded in bringing back populations of the Golden Eagle, the White-tailed Eagle and the Imperial Eagles – often from the brink of extinction (the recently concluded LIFE07 NAT/BG/000068 project resulting in 25% increase of the national breeding population of the Imperial Eagle) – watching an eagle flying majestically against the blue sky is still no longer a common sight.  

One of the main reasons for that in Bulgaria still remains the degradation and ultimate loss of natural habitats. There is a tendency to plowing and conversion of some of the most significant for the Imperial eagle territories managed as grassland, arable land, vineyards and orchards (the region around Sliven, Sakar, Derventski vazvishenia, Zapadna Strandzha). The numerous compact Souslick colonies are destroyed and some Imperial eagle pairs are deprived of their food resources, which could lead to the departure of the territories. The mitigation of this threat is the main goal of the BSPB LIFE project "Land for LIFE".

The “Kings of the skies” often becomes a victim of rat poison, die most often due to electrocution or literally loses his kingdom here on earth, with no chance for a home and food. That is a finale none could have ever wished for. 

Sourse of the historical facts: BirdLife International

Photo: Daniele Occhiato

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