Eastern Imperial eagle feared killed in Malta

Last week we published exciting news of the first ever Eastern Imperial eagle ever sighted on the Island of Malta see here Experienced birdwatchers had first spotted the huge bird flying low over Buskett on Wednesday 3rd November, making it the first ever recorded presence of the Aquila heliacal species on the Maltese Islands.

The Eastern Imperial eagle soaring over Buskett, with the airport in the background
It is with great sadness that is is now being reported the rare eagle has been shot dead while roosting in Malta earlier this week.BirdLife Malta’s newly-appointed chief executive officer, Mark Sultana claims that the eagle hasn’t been spotted since it landed in Malta to roost on Wednesday last week, and that chances are high that it has probably died while on the island.

The Photograph reproduced above and published within ‘MaltaToday’ leave no doubt that the eagle did in fact arrive in Malta, contrary to doubts raised by hunting lobby FKNK.

Experienced birdwatchers had spotted the huge bird flying low over Buskett on Wednesday afternoon, making it the first ever recorded presence of the Aquila heliacal species on the Maltese Islands.

Photo analysis revealed that the bird was sporting a satellite-tracking device on its lower body, and after contacting its European partner organisations, BirdLife Malta confirmed that the eagle had originated from a BirdLife conservation programme in Austria.

“Imperial eagles tend to avoid flying over long stretches of open water, and usually migrate eastwards to the Caucasus and Asia to breed,” Sultana said. ”For some reason, this young bird – only around a year old – got lost and flew southwards to Greece.”

Indeed, BirdLife Austria had lost track of the bird as it had flown over Crete on 2 November and they had feared that it had perished before it unexpectedly popped up in Malta.

BirdLife Malta conservation manager Nicholas Barbara told MaltaToday that the tagged eagle possibly arrived in Malta by hitching a ride on a ship, and that it had vanished from the grid due to the lack of mobile network coverage across the Mediterranean Sea.

The eagle’s arrival in Malta wasn’t originally picked up by BirdLife Austria’s satellite receivers either, a failure that Barbara attributed to possible radio transmission interference with the bird’s satellite tracking device.

Birdwatchers first spotted the eagle in Malta at around 3pm on Wednesday, with the last-known sighting at around 4:20pm – around the time of day that raptors start searching for a place to roost. Indeed, Barbara is convinced that the bird did roost on the island.

However, the eagle hasn’t been sighted since – neither by BirdLife members who were strategically deployed at various high-points the following morning before the bird was due to leave the nest, nor through its satellite tracking device.

Barbara explained that the eagle was highly unlikely to have departed the nest earlier than 8am, as raptors use thermal lifting to gain height and soar, hence requiring the sun to heat up the earth, which would in turn heat up the surrounding air.

This has left Barbara with a nasty suspicion that the bird could have been shot dead during the night; indeed, he claims to have been alerted to videos of the eagle taken by hunters.

“The autumn hunting season is at its peak, with several hunters going out in the fields in the late afternoon to hunt for skylark and song thrush, and this wouldn’t be the first time that hunters would have shot protected birds late in the day,” he said, harking back to the infamous eagle massacre of October 2013, when at least 12 eagles were killed while trying to find shelter at Buskett.

On a positive aspect, the BirdLife conservation manager said that the eagle’s arrival – along with other recent arrivals of white storks and an Egyptian vulture – prove that Malta is indeed an important stopover for rare migratory birds, “despite what some hunters may say”.

“Like the eagle, some of the birds that arrive in Malta are tagged with satellite-tracking devices. People are investing money into investigating their migratory routes and unfortunately the entire country stands to look bad if they get killed while in Malta.”

1 comment to Eastern Imperial eagle feared killed in Malta

  • Philip R

    It’s a joke that they hunt Song Thrush and Skylark, they hunt absolutely everything that flys over and will lamp out roosting birds at night, they only eat a fraction of they they shoot and have not respect for wildlife, what a bunch of backwards thinking brainless Neanderthals. Of course the hunters are going to say that it wasn’t actually at Malta and the crooks that are the police on Malta will go along with whatever the hunters say. Despite the recent movements and changes that have happened on Malta the country has a very long way to go before this barbaric behaviour is stopped and this couldn’t be more obvious from incidents like this. Meanwhile these Maltese morons are doing a very fine job of wiping out the Turtle Dove.