Rare eagle travels more than 3,000km from Russia before sighting in Dubai desert

Birdwatcher Mike Barth photographed the Eastern Imperial Eagle, then contacted a Russian conservation network after identifying a ring on its leg.

The Eastern Imperial Eagle is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  Courtesy Mike Barth
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DUBAI // An Eastern Imperial Eagle has been spotted in the UAE after completing a journey of more than 3,000 kilometres from the remote part of Russia where it hatched.

The sighting adds to the scant understanding of the migratory behaviour of the species and highlights the UAE’s importance as a transit point and winter home for birds.

The bird of prey can weigh more than 4.5 kilograms and have a wingspan of more than 2 metres.

On average, two or three are seen in the UAE each year. There is usually no way of knowing where they have come from, as the species’ breeding grounds stretch from southeastern Europe to western and central Asia.

However, the bird spotted last Saturday by a Dubai-based wildlife photographer, Mike Barth, had been tagged, which made it possible to trace its origins.

He photographed the eagle at the Saih Al Salam desert, near Dubai’s Bab Al Shams resort.

“This particular bird had a story to tell because it was a ringed bird,” he said. “After contacting the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network it was revealed that the bird had been ringed on July 16, 2013, in Tatarstan, Russia.

“It was approximately 55 days old at the time.

“The distance between the nest and the location where I photographed it is about 3,375km.”

Mark Smiles, of the Emirates Birds Records Committee, said: “What makes this special is the information that Mike’s find has yielded.

“We know that large raptors cover huge distances, especially during migration, but we can usually only speculate as to where they have come from.

“Because Mike managed to get a crisp photo of a bird that was not only ringed, but the ring was readable, we have a means of identifying this bird as an individual.

“This shows the value of the work done by the researchers around the world who ring or tag birds in a bid to learn more about their movements so that they can be better understood and, hopefully, protected.”

Mr Smiles said the Eastern Imperial Eagle was a scarce annual winter visitor to the UAE.

“We usually get two or three each year from November to April, with the deserts around Al Ain and Dubai particularly favoured, and even the Ras Al Khor wildlife sanctuary,” he said.

The bird seen by Mr Barth is thought to have now moved on. The green-and-white plastic ring on its left leg bears the code “B75”.

The Russian network uses a colour-coding system to identify the region where the tag was fitted.

The letter “B” is used for the imperial eagle and a number of other species, while the number “75” identifies the individual bird.

The species, Latin name Aquila heliaca, is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which said the global population is small and is likely to face continuing declines.

The major threats include habitat loss and degradation, collision with electricity lines, nest robbing and a shortage of prey.

Tommy Pedersen, who runs the uaebirding.com website where Mr Barth posted details of the sighting and photos of the eagle, said: "There are a host of rare birds that pass by the UAE, both rare worldwide, for example the Sociable Lapwing, and rare in the UAE but common worldwide, for example Baillon's Crake."

The UAE has an active birdwatching community, and to date 458 different species have been identified in the country.

One enthusiast, Luke Naismith, from Dubai, said of the imperial eagle sighting: “It’s a great story to showcase the migration patterns of birds that come through the UAE – another aspect of the connectedness of the UAE with the rest of the world.”