An Iberian eagle, one of the rarest raptors in the world, could have spent a few days in Alleyras (Haute-Loire)


An Iberian imperial eagle, or Iberian eagle (Aquila adalberti), one of the rarest raptors in Europe, even in the world (only 400 pairs recorded on the Iberian Peninsula and in northern Morocco), could well have made a stopover in Haute-Loire, during July.

In any case, this is what the naturalist Philippe Cochet, former expert at the Auvergne Regional Scientific Council for Natural Heritage and ornithologist for 50 years, defends. An observation that he presents supporting photos. Living in Alleyras, he noticed the bird during a naturalist outing in the upstream part of the town, on the Natura 2000 site of the Gorges de l’Allier.

A very wild part, without road. It is a bird that fears disturbance. I saw him one evening. I returned to the scene the next day and luckily saw him again. I watched it two or three times altogether. He stayed for a few days. The last time I saw it, it was noon, it took updrafts, rose very high in the sky to leave towards the south.

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The first sighting in Auvergne

To clarify his observations, the ornithologist took many pictures of the raptor. Some with silver fir cones in the background, proof that the photo was not taken in Spain. For him, there is no doubt, it is, according to the color of the feathers, a young Iberian eagle in its second or third year. “I had already observed the species in Andalusia. »

Adults are very dark, all black with white shoulder pads. But the immature is very different: it is dark on the back and the whole of its chest is isabelle color (a grayish orange-yellow). It was the only one possible.

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To these characteristic colors were added other key points: an eagle shape, with long and wide wings, a long and square tail. And unlike the buzzard, a prominent head, digitate remiges at the end of the wings and above all, about 1 m more wingspan. “An Iberian eagle has a wingspan of between 1.90 and 2.20 m and weighs 3.5 to 4.5 kg”, adds Philippe Cochet.Photo PHILIPPE COCHET

And he is not, according to him, comparable to a golden eagle with which he could be confused as an adult: “the immature golden eagle has two small white spots under the wings and has the underside of the white tail with a black tip. »

Habitat. The Iberian eagle population, of about 400 pairs, is located in Spain, Portugal and North West Africa. It nests in trees.
Feed. “In Spain, their staple diet consists of rabbits. It can also eat birds, insects, carrion, reptiles… And it can also take fish. He is very opportunistic. But it can only attack small prey. »
In danger. The Iberian eagle is classified as a protected species, as it is endangered and vulnerable.

An observation awaiting approval

Other elements, relating more to the behavior of this raptor, lead the naturalist to the conclusion that it can only be an Iberian eagle. Starting with the place of observation: the golden eagle tends to nest in rocky areas. The Iberian eagle on the plateaus, the territories at low altitude, in the trees. “It is a sedentary species. It reaches its sexual maturity around 6-7 years and has a life expectancy of 45 years. Couples are formed for life and young people move around little, explains Philippe Cochet. But in the lot, immature, more daring, will, for a time, explore more distant territories. A bird from Andalusia was observed 1,500 km from his home in Libya. »Photo PHILIPPE COCHET

The period when these reckless immature move is generally between June and October. It was noticed in July, the dates stick. In addition, it is a raptor that moves when the conditions are favorable to it: it uses rising hot air currents, like vultures. “This year, it was hot, that could explain why he came here. “A very rare trip, insists Philippe Cochet:

Since the 19th century, only nine Iberian eagles have been seen in the Pyrenees and two in the Camargue. With this one, we would arrive at twelve individuals observed in France. And it would be the first in the Massif Central and in Auvergne, 700 km from the first breeding pairs.

It now remains for the naturalist to validate his observation. “This must be done by the National Homologation Committee”, which maintains a database of occasional species in France.

Pierre Hebrard

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