One of the largest birds of prey: White-tailed eaglets hatched at Moscow Zoo

August 14
Parks and pedestrian areas

Rare white-tailed eaglets have hatched in the Moscow Zoo. They are among the largest birds of prey in the world and are listed in the International Red Data Book.

“The hatching of white-tailed eaglets is an important event for our zoo. These private predators seldom reproduce in captivity if annoyed by noisy visitors. Zoologists created favourable conditions for them, similar to the birds’ natural surroundings. They created some cozy nooks where the birds can relax away from unwelcome public attention. The birds have a nest made from birch and fir tree branches, provided by ornithologists. The mother and the father took turns incubating the eggs and later fed the chicks together,” said Moscow Zoo General Director Svetlana Akulova.

The newborns hid from the public inside the nest for two months, with both parents protecting them. Ornithologists have so far proved unable to examine the chicks because their parents are always on guard. Judging by their appearance, the zoo’s specialists believe that a female and male have hatched. The female is presumably much larger than her brother.

The chicks are already eating unassisted. The Moscow Zoo’s white-tailed eagles mostly get rodents, quail, carp, herring and salmon.

Now, the chicks are almost as large as the adult birds, but their bodies are still covered with “baby” feathers that are much darker than “adult” feathers. Their feathers will become brown at the age of 5. By that time, their tail feathers will also turn white, justifying their name.

Visitors can see the chicks as they develop and their relations with other white-tailed eagles at the Birds of Prey Cliff enclosure in the old section of the zoo. In addition to the parents and their two offspring, an adult female also lives here.

White-tailed eagles inhabit most of Eurasia, including the Scandinavian countries, the Balkan Peninsula, the Kamchatka Peninsula, northeastern China and the Korean Peninsula. These members of the hawk family live near water bodies, on the coast (in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland), as well as near rivers and lakes (including Lake Baikal and the Yenisei River). These predators almost became extinct in the early 20th century due to fishermen, forest clearing and the pollution of water bodies.  

Their numbers began to increase after a reserve white-tailed eagle population appeared in captivity, and after a ban on hunting them and ransacking their nests was introduced. In the 20th century, white-tailed eagles disappeared in Scotland, but 29 birds were brought in from Scandinavian countries throughout the 1970s. Today, about 20 nesting white-tailed eagle pairs live in Scotland.

A white-tailed eagle has a body 70 to 90 cm long and a wingspan of about two and a half metres. Adult birds weigh four to seven kg. They slowly overfly water bodies while hunting. Once they spot their prey, they extend their feet with long talons and swoop down on the hapless victim.

In the wild white-tailed eagles live in pairs, generally for life. The male and the female always return to their nest each year after spending the winter elsewhere. The parents can even “bequeath” their cozy dwellings to grownup chicks, so they can hatch eggs there.

White-tailed eagles live about 25 years in the wild, and at least one has reached 42 years old in captivity.

This year, rare Dalmatian pelicans hatched in the Moscow Zoo, and bush dogs were also born here. Maned wolf puppies, a rare canid, were born as well. A family of Humboldt penguins hatched their eggs in March. Today, the Moscow Zoo has the largest group of these birds in Russia with nine reproducing pairs and over ten birds of various ages, including chicks and adult penguins. Including the newly-hatched chicks, the entire family has 35 penguins.

A rare baby ring-tailed lemur and a black stork chick have also been born in the zoo. A baby northern Luzon giant cloud rat was born in June, followed by a hornbill chick, hatched in July. Newborn pink and red flamingo chicks already roam the Big Pond.


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