The Eagle Watchers

The Eagle Watchers: Observing and Conserving Raptors around the World

Ruth E. Tingay
Todd E. Katzner
Keith L. Bildstein
Jemima Parry-Jones
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7zjxp
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  • Book Info
    The Eagle Watchers
    Book Description:

    Eagles have fascinated humans for millennia. For some, the glimpse of a distant eagle instantly becomes a treasured lifelong memory. Others may never encounter a wild eagle in their lifetime. This book was written by people who have dedicated years to the study of eagles, to provide an insider's view for all readers, but especially those who have never been up close and personal with these magnificent yet often misunderstood creatures.

    In their stories, twenty-nine leading eagle researchers share their remarkable field experiences, providing personal narratives that don't feature in their scientific publications. They tell of their fear at being stalked by grizzly bears, their surprise at being followed by the secret police, their embarrassment when accidentally firing mortar rockets over a school gymnasium, and their sense of awe at tracking eagles via satellite. The reader experiences the cultural shock of being guest of honor at a circumcision ceremony, the absurdity of sharing an aquatic car with the Khmer Rouge, and the sense of foreboding at being press-ganged into a frenzied tribal death march through the jungle.

    The Eagle Watchers covers twenty-four species on six continents, from well known (bald eagle; golden eagle), to obscure (black-and-chestnut eagle; New Guinea harpy eagle), and from common (African fish eagle) to critically endangered (Philippine eagle; Madagascar fish eagle). The diverse experiences vividly described in this book reveal the passion, dedication, and sense of adventure shared by those who study these majestic birds and strive for their conservation.

    Featuring stunning color photographs of the eagles, information on raptor conservation, a global list of all eagle species with ranges and conservation status, and a color map of the sites visited in the book, The Eagle Watchers will appeal to birders, conservationists, and adventure travelers alike. To further support the conservation programs described in this book, all royalties are being donated to two leading nonprofit organizations for raptor conservation training and fieldwork: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Intern Program and the National Birds of Prey Trust.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5938-2
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Keith L. Bildstein and Jemima Parry-Jones

    When we accepted the editors’ invitation to write a foreword for The Eagle Watchers, we did so with a bit of trepidation. After all, both Ruth Tingay and Todd Katzner had been Leadership Interns at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and both have received funding from the National Birds of Prey Trust. Because profits from the sales of this book will be used to support the work by these organizations in raptor conservation, some might think our praise for the book is based on our own self-interest, but this is not the case. The work that follows stands on its own as...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Ruth Tingay and Todd Katzner
  5. 1 Eagle Diversity, Ecology, and Conservation
    (pp. 1-25)
    Todd E. Katzner and Ruth E. Tingay

    Eagle populations over much of the world are threatened. Of the 75 currently recognized eagle species, at least 30 (approximately 40%) are of conservation concern, and for nearly each of them, populations are declining (see the appendix for listings). The cross-species nature of these declines implies that there are likely group-level characteristics of eagles that make them particularly vulnerable to impacts from growing human populations and increasing resource consumption. In cases where declines have been evaluated, the causes are generally similar to those that threaten other large predators. Eagle populations are most strongly influenced by direct human impacts such as...

  6. 2 New Guinea Harpy Eagle
    (pp. 26-39)
    Mark Watson and Martin Gilbert

    There are a thousand greens in this random cloister of waxy, spiky, shining leaves. Vertical lines of moss-clad trunks of red, orange, black, and white bark. A tangled mesh of branches and vines. Water dripping and glistening. The forest floor of yellow mud is layered with dead leaves, twigs, and rotting trunks. I want to write of the time in the cloud forest when rain starts to fall. Vaporous cloud swirls up the deep ravines carrying moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Papua. There is a hiss of approaching rain sheets that suddenly turns to a loud roar as they...

  7. 3 Golden Eagle
    (pp. 40-52)
    Carol McIntyre and Jeff Watson

    Not much beats the view from a golden eagle’s nest. My view from one on Polychrome Mountain on July 21, 1997, was superb. A group of Dall sheep ewes and lambs grazed lazily on the opposite mountainside. The remarkably surefooted lambs bounded across the steep slope but never strayed far from the protection of the ewes. Down the valley a bit, a female grizzly bear grazed in a patch of blueberries, with two spring cubs in tow. The cubs rolled and tumbled over each other as they played. Below me, a Say’s phoebe was busily picking off butterflies in a...

  8. 4 Lesser Spotted Eagle
    (pp. 53-59)
    Bernd-U. Meyburg

    I had already become preoccupied with raptors for two of my schoolboy years when, in 1964, I came across a small book about the lesser spotted eagle. Two aspects of the biology of this species immediately fascinated me: the so-called Cain and Abel struggle (also known as “cainism,” whereby the eldest chick kills its younger sibling), and the species’ lengthy migration routes. The author, Dr. Victor Wendland, who is still the only person to have written a monograph on this species, had already established in the 1930s that the lesser spotted eagle normally lays two eggs, that two chicks usually...

  9. 5 Wedge-tailed Eagle
    (pp. 60-64)
    Penny Olsen

    Near Canberra, Australia’s capital, wedge-tailed eagles nest on the gentle hillsides and hunt in the valleys below. They also build in large gum trees along the rivers, where there is rarely a scarcity of prey in this otherwise drought-prone country. Over the years the species has quietly found its way into the outer suburbs, nesting in bushland within several hundred meters of houses. When I first started studying raptors, some 30 years ago, this would have been unthinkable. We all believed that after so many years of persecution the survivors had been selected to be wary of humans. For, until...

  10. 6 Madagascar Serpent Eagle
    (pp. 65-72)
    Sarah Karpanty

    I landed in Madagascar in August 1997, a young, green college senior on a mission to study the predator-prey relationship between the raptors and lemurs of southeast Madagascar. For many years, primatologists had documented strong antipredator reactions of lemurs to several species of raptors, including the Madagascar buzzard, Madagascar harrier-hawk, and Henst’s goshawk. Yet, despite vigorous alarm calls and avoidance behaviors by many lemur species at the sight of a large raptor, there had been no observed instances of predation on the larger, diurnal lemurs. Some scientists had hypothesized that today’s day-living lemurs experienced no predation by raptors, but that...

  11. 7 Bald Eagle
    (pp. 73-86)
    Alan R. Harmata and Teryl G. Grubb

    In August 1967, after 10 months in Vietnam serving as an infantry radioman, a cacophony of mortars, AK-47s, and light artillery fire again filled the air. A 75 mm recoilless rifle (3’ cannon) round delivered by a North Vietnamese army gun crew hit me in the left foot, neatly relieving me of my left arm 7.6 cm (3 in) below the shoulder and my left leg at mid-calf. After receiving the last rites and having my evacuation from Vietnam delayed due to my anticipated demise, gangrene and army surgeons took more of my leg, to above the knee. I submit...

  12. 8 Verreaux’s Eagle
    (pp. 87-94)
    Rob Davies

    At the end of each nesting season I tried to collect as many bones, skulls, or tortoise scutes that I could find left over by the black eagles beneath their lofty nest cliffs. This was quite an arduous part of the study because it involved scrambling up and down steep rocky screes and wrestling with thorn bushes for the skeletal remains held in their tight embrace. One type of bush released clouds of irritant powder every time it was touched. Others lacerated unprotected skin. Consequently, I could be seen on occasion in the heat of a Karoo summer (40°C [104°F])...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  14. 9 Eastern Imperial Eagle
    (pp. 95-100)
    Todd E. Katzner

    It wasn’t until I’d been in Kazakhstan for six summers that I even started to understand eagle behavior. As is the case with so much research, especially biological field research, the years and years of hard work were only the backdrop for an epiphany, a shining moment that, in an instant, swept away years of haze. For me, that moment of clarity came on a cool June morning when I was watching eagles in north-central Kazakhstan.

    My colleagues and I had come to the southern end of the Naurzum National Nature Reserve to observe foraging eagles. Beyond us to the...

  15. 10 Steller’s Sea Eagle
    (pp. 101-105)
    Keisuke Saito

    I am a Japanese wildlife veterinarian and I have worked with Steller’s sea eagles for more than 10 years, mostly on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. My work includes not only ecological investigations but also conservation and rehabilitation of eagles. For the past seven years, in addition to my study of eagles on their wintering grounds, I have worked on the breeding grounds on Sakhalin Island, where some of the eagles seen in Hokkaido spend their summer. So, essentially my annual movements mirror those of Steller’s sea eagles, and this, I feel, gives me some insight, especially in relation...

  16. 11 Spanish Imperial Eagle
    (pp. 106-111)
    Miguel Ferrer

    September 22, 1988, 7:00 a.m. and more than 25°C (77°F) in Doñana National Park’s dry marshes. It was another hot day in southern Spain. I was watching an eagle family with two adults and two young near the end of the breeding cycle. I was trying to study juvenile dispersal and my mind was full of questions. When do the juveniles leave their natal territory? Where do they go afterward? How do they spend the nearly five years that occur before they begin breeding? Not too much was known about these topics in the 1980s and these questions were the...

  17. 12 Madagascar Fish Eagle
    (pp. 112-118)
    Ruth E. Tingay

    Today was the day I was going to catch my favorite eagle. I knew I wasn’t supposed to have a favorite. As a scientific eagle watcher, my role was to retain a dispassionate objectivity about my study species and to observe and record their daily behavior in a methodical and impartial manner. That had all changed when I met a special eagle called Cut Off.

    Cut Off had only one foot. He was one of 40 Madagascar fish eagles whose behavior I had been studying. These eagles were unusual because they lived in polyandrous breeding groups comprising two to four...

  18. 13 African Crowned Eagle
    (pp. 119-125)
    Susanne Shultz

    In 1998, through sheer good fortune, I found myself involved with the Taï Monkey Project in Taï National Park, Ivory Coast. People find primates fascinating because they are social, intelligent, and easy to empathize with. One of the most likely explanations for primates’ sociality is that living in a group helps individuals evade predators. Although many people had looked at how monkeys behave around predators, very few had looked at how predators behave around monkeys. African crowned eagles are one of the three large forest eagles in the world that are capable of grappling with wily monkeys, the other two...

  19. 14 Grey-headed Fishing Eagle
    (pp. 126-132)
    Malcolm Nicoll

    In 2005, I was fortunate enough to join a field trip to Cambodia to study the grey-headed fishing eagle, a species that lives in the extraordinary flooded forest surrounding Asia’s largest freshwater lake, the Tonle Sap. This may seem relatively unremarkable but for two reasons. First, as a result of the political instability associated with the Khmer Rouge regime, until the mid-1990s few western scientists had been allowed into Cambodia to study the wildlife. Second, very little is known about the grey-headed fishing eagle anywhere across its range. In fact, we were to be the first wildlife biologists to go...

  20. 15 Wahlberg’s Eagle
    (pp. 133-139)
    Robert E. Simmons

    It was at an international meeting of ecologists in Princeton, New Jersey, United States, where I first met the imposing figure of Doug Mock. Doug is a disconcerting character with his broad American accent, his esteemed reputation as the doyen of sibling aggression studies, and his habit of looking at you with first one eye then the other. Doug’s squint makes it impossible to know whether or not he’s concentrating on you, but one thing he said in jest irritated me and stuck in my memory long after our meeting. He said that most people who study raptors do so...

  21. 16 Solitary Eagle
    (pp. 140-145)
    Bill Clark

    The first steps on the road to becoming a successful eagle watcher are to learn where to find your eagle and then to learn how to identify it once you have located it. This may sound obvious, and for many well-known eagle species it is indeed a relatively simple task. However, even today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there are still several eagle species of which we know very little, even the details of their appearance. One such eagle, the rare solitary eagle, has been my nemesis for many years.

    Advancing the art of raptor field identification has...

  22. 17 Javan Hawk-Eagle
    (pp. 146-152)
    Vincent Nijman

    I write this from behind my desk at the zoological museum in Amsterdam, surrounded by old jars with pickled bats and primates and parts of a whale’s backbone. In a similar environment, almost 15 years ago, I rested my eyes for the first time on a Javan hawk-eagle.

    In the early 1990s, the Javan hawk-eagle was considered one of the least known and most rare eagles in the world. Fifty to 80 pairs were thought to remain. Endemic to the island of Java, Indonesia’s political, industrial, and economical center, few ornithologists had observed the eagle firsthand. Photographs of the Javan...

  23. 18 African Fish Eagle
    (pp. 153-158)
    Munir Z. Virani

    Gandhi said, “It takes only one moment to change your life.” My moment came when I was 13 years old. Diana and Mirko, friends of my parents, took me and my brothers on a fishing trip at Lake Naivasha in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. At the risk of sounding old, the lake in those days was a portrait of wild Africa—crystal clear waters dotted with tens of thousands of waterfowl floating among a mosaic of water lilies. Pods of grunting hippos emerged from huge papyrus-fringed swamps while buff aloes and giraffes watched from a distance, wary of stalking predators...

  24. 19 Bateleur
    (pp. 159-166)
    Richard T. Watson

    “All you really need is a decent pair of binoculars, good boots, and determination,” said Warwick Tarboton, my PhD supervisor. He was right, of course, but I was determined to use the latest technology in my research by employing VHF radios to locate and track my study subjects, bateleurs, as they traversed their home range in search of food and defense of mate and territory. It took me about six months of frustrating effort to understand that scavenging raptors, such as bateleurs, are really hard to catch. And, unfortunately, you have to catch them to attach a transmitter! After I...

  25. 20 Harpy Eagle
    (pp. 167-173)
    Janeene Touchton

    As I stepped off the boat, The Jacana, onto Barro Colorado Island (BCI), the deafening roar of the howler monkeys nearly knocked me over backward. I quickly looked around; the forest was still dripping from the torrent of Neotropical rain that fell the night before and the sun was just beginning to burn away the mist that had hung low all morning. Although I wanted to take in all my surroundings—the lush greenery, the unfamiliar sounds and smells, strange colorful insects, the Amazon parrots flying overhead, all the crazy scientists running about—I could not be distracted. Today I...

  26. 21 White-bellied Sea Eagle
    (pp. 174-180)
    Jason Wiersma

    At the age of 15 I was a keen raptor enthusiast. I wasn’t much keen on loitering at the local mall and just hanging out. Instead, I spent most of my spare time wading through glossy raptor books and trying to make sense of scientific papers on birds of prey.

    I volunteered my time to look after injured and orphaned birds, built my own aviaries, and helped others do the same. I was inspired to get heavily into fieldwork, with the large predatory birds being my greatest passion. My home in Launceston was a gift for any raptor enthusiast. A...

  27. 22 Martial Eagle
    (pp. 181-187)
    Andrew Jenkins

    “N-I-G-R-I-N-I!” pronounced Chris Nigrini, loudly and proudly, with a challenging sparkle in his eyes, as I was introduced to him on the front step of his farmhouse in the vast, semi-arid heartland of South Africa known as the Karoo. This spelling out of his surname, he alleged, was the sum total of his command of English. Otherwise, he is as fundamentally Afrikaans as biltong (salted, air-dried meat) and boerewors (spicy sausage)—two unique and staple components of the Afrikaners’ frighteningly carnivorous diet. With humor as dry as his rolling acres of ranchland, Chris was keen to remind me that English-speakers...

  28. 23 White-tailed Sea Eagle
    (pp. 188-206)
    Justin Grant, Björn Helander and John A. Love

    There are run-of-the-mill jobs, and there are jobs that you hope you never have to do again. What I had to do on the Isle of Skye in early July 2003, on the first day after a vacation, came fairly and squarely in the second category. Thinking back, of course, the situation was my own fault to begin with, for not being sufficiently on the ball earlier in the year. I thought I knew what was going on, and it turned out that I didn’t.

    Where white-tailed sea eagles on the Isle of Skye were concerned, it was my responsibility...

  29. 24 Black-and-chestnut Eagle
    (pp. 207-213)
    Ursula Valdez

    I vividly remember the morning I saw a pair of black-and-chestnut eagles circling together high in the sky, then locking talons and descending, cutting through the fog in coordinated and acrobatic spirals until they reached a treetop. The female perched on a high branch while the male soared up, calling constantly. Soon he descended again to join the female and mate with her. Moments like these make an eagle watcher’s day: it no longer matters how much daily frustration one has suffered to get to that point.

    When I was hired to study black-and-chestnut eagles, I knew very little about...

  30. 25 Philippine Eagle
    (pp. 214-222)
    Hector C. Miranda Jr.

    I saw my first wild Philippine eagle on May 14, 1981. It was a sunny day in eastern Mindanao, a beautiful island in the south of the Philippine archipelago in Southeast Asia. It was our second day in the field. At around ten o’clock in the morning, a pair of Philippine eagles appeared from the canopy, soaring together, circling each other like aerial “skaters” while riding the thermal updraft. I stood there in the middle of the jungle transfixed and mesmerized, watching the pair through my binoculars until they disappeared beyond the tropical horizon.

    A week before that, I’d had...

  31. Appendix. Conservation Status of the World’s Eagles
    (pp. 223-228)
  32. Further Reading
    (pp. 229-234)