Rare imperial eagle sighted in Flanders

An imperial eagle was sighted for the very first time in Heule (West Flanders) last month.  The eagle has a wingspan of over two metres and usually can only be seen in southern and eastern Europe.

The imperial eagle is one of the world’s biggest birds of prey.  A specimen was sighted in Heule on 12 April.  Bird lover Bart Augustijns witnessed the magnificent sight as the bird flew in from the south west and managed to take a few snaps.  After Bart shared his photos on WhatsApp the eagle was spotted in the skies between Ghent and Lokeren too.

International experts have now confirmed the bird was an imperial eagle thanks to the photos.  The imperial eagle is a rare bird of prey that usually lives in southern and eastern Europe, in places like Spain.  Its natural habitat includes forests near open river deltas where it can hunt for rodents and young water birds.  The imperial eagle features on the red list of endangered species with only 15,000 imperial eagles in the world.

Ornithologist Dominique Verbelen says the bird’s presence here shows birds of prey are doing well: “We see numbers of birds of prey increasing nearly everywhere in Europe.  Birds like the imperial eagle used to be hunted and poisoned.  These practices now largely belong to the past.  As a result we are sometimes seeing birds of prey from Spain and eastern parts in Flanders”.

Mr Verbelen says the imperial eagle seen in Heule had gone astray.  It was in a place where it shouldn’t occur naturally.  “Often these are young animals that are not yet ready to procreate.  In the mating season they will venture off” says Mr Verbelen. “If they end up in certain weather conditions, they may go astray as their sense of orientation isn’t yet fully developed.”

The animal probably flew on to Denmark where there was also a sighting, but the ornithologist is hopeful that at the end of the day the bird will return to its original breeding area.   

Bart Augustijns

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