Ukraine Conflict Disrupts Epic Eagle Migration

Ukraine Conflict Disrupts Epic Eagle Migration

New Delhi. Migrating eagles are changing their traditional routes to avoid flying over war-torn Ukraine, a discovery that could negatively affect their ability to breed. Each year, between March and April, the greater spotted eagle embarks on a journey from its wintering grounds in southern Europe and east Africa to its breeding sites in Belarus.

Typically, the eagles’ route takes them directly through Ukraine. However, recent tracking data reveals that these birds are now making detours to steer clear of the conflict zones. As a result, they are spending less time at their usual refueling stops in Ukraine, which are crucial for their long migration.

Tracking the eagles

According to reports, researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) tagged 19 greater spotted eagles to monitor their migratory patterns. They discovered that, on average, the birds are traveling an additional 52 miles. Female eagles are now spending 246 hours in the air compared to 193 hours before the conflict began, while males are taking 181 hours to reach their breeding grounds, up from 125 hours in pre-war times.

Impact of the war on wildlife

This study is the first to show how war disrupts the migratory routes of rare birds. According to experts, these findings can provide a new POV into the effects of war in an active conflict zone. It will also help to understand the impact of exposure to war events or different human activities that are difficult to predict. 

Vulnerable species at risk

Greater spotted eagles, large raptors classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, were already being studied by the team when the war broke out. The researchers were initially focused on the impacts of bad weather, drought, and habitat destruction on the birds’ migratory routes. However, the war added a new and unforeseen layer of disturbance.

The eagles, equipped with GPS tracking devices, have been exposed to artillery fire, jets, tanks, and other military activities, as well as large movements of soldiers and displaced civilians. Consequently, the eagles have altered their traditional migratory paths significantly.

Concerns for breeding

The researchers are concerned that these changes could lead to reduced physical fitness in the eagles, which is vital for successful breeding. The study highlights the unintended consequences of human activity on wildlife.

With migratory birds such as the greater spotted eagle facing global declines, it is crucial to enhance our understanding and efforts to reduce our impact on these notable species.

Decline in stopovers

The team observed a sharp decline in the number of eagles making stopovers in Ukraine before continuing to their breeding grounds. Only six out of 19 birds (30%) made stopovers in 2022, compared to 18 out of 20 (90%) between 2018 and 2021.

Stopover sites, such as those in Ukrainian Polesia, are critical for providing food, water, and shelter during their long migration. The absence of these stops forces the eagles to travel further and arrive at their nesting grounds later than usual.


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