Interview with Konstantin Pismennyi about the Short-toed Eagle and the website

Date of the interview: 02 November 2009

The Short-toed Eagle is a fascinating raptor with a very interesting biology. In this interview, Konstantin Pismennyi talks about the life and conservation of this large eagle and explains the purpose behind the website

Konstantin Pismennyi

Konstantin Pismennyi

Markus Jais: You created an amazing website about the Short-toed Eagle. What is the goal of the website?
Konstantin Pismennyi: Thank you for the kind words! I see the main goal of my site first of all in the intensification of common interest to this bird, which should give the impulse to the protection and conservation actions. Secondly the site should make better the communication between few Short-toed Eagles experts and lovers in different countries and should make the information exchange easier for them. That is why English was chosen as the main language of the site, though the greatest experts on Short-toed Eagle do not live and work in English-speaking countries. The site was conceived as international from the very beginning. My own interest is to be in a sense like an information conductor so to get more fresh news about my favourite bird of prey. But frankly speaking I have now so much information that don't have an ability to learn it all as deeply as it deserves :-)

Markus Jais: How many people are participating and how many visitors do you have?
Konstantin Pismennyi: There were 985 unique visitors in October statistically, I understand that only a part of them are real people and others can be just some programs, that cannot be determined correctly by the website statistic analyzer. But while comparing how many certain unique IP-addresses turned to a lot of pages of the site it is possible to make conclusion that their number increases from month to month, so the site becomes more and more popular. As for the participants, these are now the people who have personally given various materials to publish on HoverOverUs:

  • from France: Bernard Joubert, Jean-Pierre Malafosse, Richard Frèze, Yves Forget, Françoise Gérardin, Renaud Nadal;
  • from Italy: Francesco Petretti, Vincenzo Rizzo Pinna;
  • from Spain: Javier Blasco-Zumeta, Robert King;
  • from Belarus: Vladimir Ivanovski, Valery Dombrovski;
  • from Ukraine: Sergey Domashevsky;
  • from Israel: Sameh Darawshi;
  • from Russia: Viktor Belik;
  • from Kazakhstan: Nikolay Berezovikov.

Markus Jais: Has the website helped you to connect with other Short-toed Eagle experts and researchers?
Konstantin Pismennyi: Yes, after creation of the website my conversations with Short-toed Eagle researchers became richer, I found more interesting contacts. I would like to connect with Short-toed Eagle experts in India, Mongolia and in other countries of the eastern-south part of its range, but this goal has not become reality yet.

Short-toed Eagle female with Grass Snake

Short-toed Eagle female with Grass Snake. © Konstantin Pismennyi

Markus Jais: How do you see the current conservation status of the Short-toed Eagle in Europe?
Konstantin Pismennyi: Nowadays the European population of the Short-toed Eagle seems to be stable. Judging by results of modern researches, probably this bird of prey can turn out to be more adaptable than it could be expected from such a specialized species. But their dependence on the availability of reptiles is still obvious. As well as the dependence on the existence of places suitable for their nesting.

Markus Jais: What are the main threats to the species?
Konstantin Pismennyi: Exactly global landscape changes can lead to disappearance of large open areas which are rich in snakes and lizards and to destruction of old forests where the birds nest. Such changes seem to be the main threats to Short-toed Eagles at the present moment. A typical hunting territory of each Short-toed Eagle pair spreads for about 300 km² and usually includes separated places with a high number of snakes. It's easy to imagine how difficult it is to conserve such large areas in modern conditions. Regarding old forests, the problem isn't the inability of the Eagles to nest on younger trees. But now old parts of forests are equally attractive both for the birds and for workers of forestry, who regularly disturb them and destroy their nesting sites often just from ignorance. In addition we observe the mortality from hunters' shots and power lines, ruin of the nests because of disturbance from people etc.

Markus Jais: Snakes are the most important prey in most areas. How dependent on snakes is the Short-toed Eagle? Can it raise a chick when there are only few snakes but a lot of other prey like mammals and birds?
Konstantin Pismennyi: For my study region (northern-central Ukraine) the life without a high number of snakes is impossible for Short-toed Eagles. I don't believe they can quickly move away from their main prey. Certainly, decline of snakes populations will immediately lead to the decline of the Short-toed Eagle population or even to their complete disappearance from the region. Although the species may have a potential to change its food specialization in the distant future. Small mammals look to be the most acceptable equivalent of snakes for them.

Markus Jais: Snakes are persecuted and hated in many areas - even when legally protected. What can be done to protect snakes and therefore the prey for the Short-toed Eagle?
Konstantin Pismennyi: First of all people don't know much about snakes, which live in the neighbourhood. They cannot identify different species of snakes, cannot separate poisonous snakes from absolutely harmless ones. So improving awareness of people should be the first step. On the other hand the human fear of snakes protects them in a certain extent and as it has been noted before the most important thing is to conserve the habitats of snakes.

Short-toed Eagle yearling living in captivity

Short-toed Eagle yearling living in captivity. © Konstantin Pismennyi

Markus Jais: Short-toed Eagles can often seen perched on power poles. Are many Short-toed Eagles electrocuted?
Konstantin Pismennyi: Short-toed Eagles usually land on perches from above, because of the specific body mechanism, which is a reflection of their living in general. That is why such perches as power line poles are so attractive for them. The birds use them for resting and hunting. For example, the Lesser Spotted Eagle that lives in the same biotopes and has similar numbers in Kiev Region. They have never been seen sitting on power lines, they prefer trees. Obviously the Short-toed Eagles’ way to sit down to the top of a power pole from above is the least dangerous. However the danger is just in the nearness of electricity. Surely, cases of the Short-toed Eagles death on power lines are known, but I cannot tell anything about their number in comparison with the population density for some certain regions. It isn’t known to me if anywhere special researches were done.

Markus Jais: Short-toed Eagles lay only one egg, although larger species like the White-tailed Eagle or the Eastern Imperial Eagle regularly lay 2 or even 3 eggs. Is it known why the Short-toed Eagle only lays one egg and what are the advantages of this?
Konstantin Pismennyi: Laying just one egg is an integral part of their breeding strategy, which is built on a positive connection with the availability of reptiles. The Short-toed Eagle chicks’ mortality is relatively low. Also the general breeding success is about 0.5-0.6 fledglings per a territorial pair. Thus raising of one chick can provide the population stability and at the same time the Eagles have, for example, a possibility to build small and well hidden nests suitable for the constant stay only of one bird. By my experience this helps them much to be more refractory to disturbance from people.

Markus Jais: What gaps in our knowledge about the Short-toed Eagle do still exist? Are there any research projects going on to fill those gaps?
Konstantin Pismennyi: The monitoring data is being collected now in many regions more or less regularly. Especially the French national Circaetus network organized by Bernard Joubert and Jean-Pierre Malafosse should be mentioned in this connection as an example for imitation. Thanks to that we can now speak about quite exact average breeding success value for some regions of the Short-toed Eagle range. But we don’t have information on the populations’ exchange and renewal dynamics, because of lack of knowledge on the Short-toed Eagle migrations and especially on migrations of young, immature birds, of their following distribution. Nowadays some research projects with colour marking of the Eagles are going in France and Israel; Short-toed Eagles are being ringed by traditional metallic rings in many other countries. Results of such research might highlight this subject. However the satellite telemetry seems to be much more effective for that. This method has been used by Dr. Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg and by Spanish researchers in Europe and also by Sameh Darawshi in Israel. It’s a pity, but nobody knows if we may profit by results of his research in the context of the estimation of the European population dynamics. In general the satellite telemetry can give much more clear knowledge while working on a much smaller number of birds. Up to date, too few young Short-toed Eagles have been equipped with transmitters to make some more or less certain conclusions both for their migrations and distribution.

Markus Jais: What must be done on a European scale to create a safe future for the Short-toed Eagle?
Konstantin Pismennyi: While answering your previous questions I’ve tried to touch the subjects, which seem the most important for the Short-toed Eagle conservation now. I see the following goals:

  • conservation of the hunting areas (this can be the most difficult if some started economic programs lead to the transformation of hunting areas);
  • protection of the breeding territories or mass building of artificial nesting sites (the building of artificial nesting sites to attract Short-toed Eagles to younger forest parts, which are not planned to be cut in near future will be successful only if it is realized massively; thus it can be too expensive);
  • research on the Short-toed Eagle populations dynamics and on the young birds’ distribution by satellite telemetry (this can help us to understand what breeding success value is typical for the Short-toed Eagle population-donator, what value is necessary to provide the stability of it and what value can tell us about the population decline);
  • distribution of the specialized monitoring programs as wide as possible (together with the previous point, this allows to foretell every negative trend for the Short-toed Eagle populations and to take some steps to help them).

Markus Jais: Konstantin, thank you very much for the interview
Konstantin Pismennyi: Thank you, Markus! It is very kind of you to give people a possibility to express themselves.

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