Lesser spotted eagle (Clanga pomarina, previously Aquila pomarina) is medium sized dark brown eagle. It’s wing span can reach up to 1,5 meters. The wings are long and evenly broad, tips well “fingered”. It’s strong legs are covered with feathers up to the fingers.
Although it is one of the smallest eagles, the lesser spotted eagle is a majestic bird that can usually be observed calmly soaring above fields and plains. It reaches maturity around age of 3-4, and can live up to 20 years. Life of lesser spotted eagle is closely linked with humans and their activities as it is strongly affected by the way we manage our farmlands and meadows, and what we do in the forests. Lesser spotted eagle needs a mosaic of different land uses - a meadow, fallow lands and grasslands where to forage for food, and it needs a forest where to build a nest. Lesser spotted eagle also needs separately growing trees, hay stacks, fences and poles where to sit and observe the potential prey. In turn, clear cuts and large monoculture fields are not suitable for lesser spotted eagles. If lesser spotted eagle is present in the landscape, it indicates rich biodiversity of the territory.
Most often the lesser spotted eagle feeds on small rodents (mainly voles) and amphibians, but can prey as well on moles, insects, and - rarely - small birds.
Lesser spotted eagle forages in meadows, grasslands, fallow lands, and does it for the most of its active daytime. Most often it will forage in the range of one kilometer around the nest, therefore it is especially important that this area includes mowed meadows and small wetlands as a source of frogs. Lesser spotted eagle looks for the prey while soaring in the air or sitting in an elevated location - a separately growing tree or haystack, but it can also be seen foraging on the ground.
Breeding and habitat
Lesser spotted eagles breed in pairs, mostly remain monogamous and after spending the winter in Africa return to previous breeding places.
They make their nests in grown leaf and mixed forests with spruces, birches and aspens, and usually build the nests in close proximity to the edge of forest.
Lesser spotted eagles return to Latvia from Africa in the beginning of April. At the end of April the female lays one or two eggs - white with darker spots. Usually incubation is done by female, while the male protects the territory and brings prey, but sometimes also the male undertakes the incubating. After a little more than a month the chicks are hatched. If both eggs hatch and chicks are two, the oldest and strongest attacks the other and in most cases only one survives. The fact that lesser spotted eagles have a small number of offsprings is another reason why the population increases slowly. Lesser spotted eagles are very sensitive to disturbances therefore they should not be disturbed during breeding, especially time of incubation.
Until the end of the summer lesser spotted eagle usually sticks around its nest area and takes care of the offspring, but at the beginning of september starts it’s long way to wintering grounds in Africa. The trip usually is around 11 000 kilometers. The destination -- Eastern part of Africa. Latvia welcomes back lesser spotted eagles in the beginning of April when they return to seek the old nests. The highest breeding density of lesser spotted eagles ever registered in world is in nature park “Kuja” in Latvia where it reached 33 pairs per 100 km2.
Latvia is home for almost a half of all European Union lesser spotted eagles and one fifth of the world population. It is estimated that around 4 thousand pairs breed in Latvia. However, since the beginning of 21st century the population has decreased almost by 15%. Therefore Latvia is responsible for protection of lesser spotted eagle not only in national level, but also on European and even global level.
The main threats to lesser spotted eagle in Latvia are intensive farming and intensive forestry. The large and homogenous monoculture fields endanger the foraging sites and the forestry changes the natural breeding habitat of lesser spotted eagle.
Why it is important to protect Lesser spotted eagle
In April 2018 we installed webcams at two nests of lesser spotted eagle. The webcams allow us to observe the life of birds and to follow the course of nesting. The data obtained can be useful for ornitologists in order to gain a better understanding of behaviour of the bird.
One of the webcams was installed at the nest built in a spruce in Zemgale - middle of Southern part of Latvia. Last year one young bird was observed in this nest, and judging by the construction of the nest, it has been used for nesting for quite a long time.
The other nest, also located in Zemgale, is known since 2017 when one young bird was observed there. It is built in a birch tree approximately 20 meters from the ground and its estimated age is at least five years.
However, during 2018 nesting did not occur in neither of the two nests. The nest in the spruce was visited by lesser spotted eagle only couple of times, but the nest in birch tree was more inhabited -- during spring several birds visited it, also a pair of birds spent longer time here and even decorated the nest with pine and spruce needles. The couple has been occasionally observed in the nest until the end of August.
Currently the livestream is not active. We will resume it in Spring 2019.