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Danube-wide winter census

750 White-tailed Eagles counted!

300 voluntary counters braved cold and wind to monitor 3.000 river kilometres at the Danube on January 12th. They reported a pleasant result: In nine Danube countries, 750 eagles were counted! The number proves the perfect suitability of the Danube River as habitat for the White-tailed Eagle.

Flagship species for the Danube River

At the counting point (photo: Kern)
The majestic White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) is the biggest bird of prey in the Danube region. It sits on the top of the food chain and thus serves as flagship species: If the habitat is in good condition, White-tailed Eagle numbers rise. For a long time, population numbers were extremely low. Intensive efforts in North and East European countries enabled the recovery of the population.

The Danube is a lifeline for Europe and a retreat for numerous threatened species. The habitats along the river and its tributaries are also important for the White-tailed Eagle - both the native South-East European population, and the Northern population that arrives for wintering in our region. Protected Areas play a key role in the preservation of those habitats.

Danube-wide census

DANUBEPARKS elaborated an Action Plan for the conservation of the White-tailed Eagle along the Danube in 2009, which was adopted by the Council of Europe. As a first step in implementation, better knowledge on wintering areas is needed: Where are the best areas, what makes them attractive, are special conservation actions necessary?

White-tailed Eagle experts and the map showing counting results (photo: Kern)
To answer these questions, the first synchronous Danube-wide winter census was coordinated this year by DANUBEPARKS. Many countries are organizing adjacent events to raise public awareness. In Austria, such an event was jointly organized by BirdLife, DANUBEPARKS, and WWF, and included live contributions by counters from all Danube countries.

The result of yesterdays count – 750 White-tailed Eagles – proves the success of common nature protection efforts across borders and underlines the value of the Danube River as habitat of European importance!

The Hot Spots for White-tailed Eagle

The cross-border region of Donau-Auen National Park, Morava River, and neighbouring Slovak-Hungarian floodplains represents one of the hot spots: More than 100 eagles were spotted there. Improved joint protection measures should preserve this population in the long run.

The most important region for White-tailed Eagles along the whole Danube lies in a border triangle too, covering regions in Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia. 200 individuals were announced from there – the conservation efforts of Duna-Dráva National Park, Kopački rit Nature Park, and Gornje Podunavlje Special Nature Reserve are pivotal for this population. These jewels of nature at “Europe’s Amazon” are soon also to be protected in a multilateral UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The Lower Danube has big potential: At the Bulgarian and Romanian section, eagles currently concentrate on few hot spots, especially the Danube Delta. The total counted in these two countries was 360 eagles.

Symposium with international participation

Symposium with international contributions (photo: Kern)
During the Symposium in Hainburg (Austria), the Danube countries announced the results provided by the 300 counters promptly after the census. The collected live contributions formed a complete picture on the distribution of wintering White-tailed Eagle at the Danube River for the first time! The event also served to bring together experts from several countries. Their experience will support the improved protection of White-tailed Eagle, the understanding of its requirements, and the joint efforts against threats like habitat loss, illegal hunting, or poisoning.

The high public interest proves the support for the topic: More than 200 participants joined the excursion, listened to lectures, and experienced the arrival of latest census results. The Symposium is thus a strong statement for a diverse nature, where the White-tailed Eagle acts as a symbol for the natural treasures along the Danube.