Born to be Free

Jonathan Meyrav 01/01/2018 00:00

Israel is one of the best places in the world to see Eastern Imperial Eagles. Up to 100 individuals winter in Israel every year. The Western Negev is a prime wintering area for these majestic beauties and any visit between November and March usually promises multiple individuals.


On November 29th 2017 I was birding the fields near Urim when I spotted 2 distant Imperial Eagles quarreling in the sky. One of the birds was a sub-adult and the other a 3rd calendar year Eagle. From a distance it seemed like the younger bird had prey dangling from its talons and the older bird was trying to take the prey. When I got closer to the birds I was amazed to see that the "prey" was actually long leather straps attached to the Eagle's feet.



A young Eastern Imperial Eagle Shackled with long leather straps - Urim 29.11.17

Photo - Jonathan Meyrav


The straps seemed like they were made of thick leather and dangled a good 30 cms below the bird’s feet. It was clearly a falconer setup and that the bird was kept in captivity somewhere and managed to escape.


I got closer to the bird and managed a few pictures. I followed the Eagle for a while; it seemed that despite the dangling straps it was flying well and strong.

I called up some friends from the region to let them know about the bird and posted the pictures online that evening.

A few days later I was back in the Negev and sure enough after some searching I managed to relocate the young Imperial Eagle. Again it seemed fine but when it perched I was surprised that I managed to get quite close to it before it flew off, much closer than any "regular" Imperial Eagle. This was the first time I was concerned that maybe the bird is used to human presence and not wary as it should be. I shared my concerns with others and the suggestion was raised to try and catch it to remove the straps.



"The Eagle from Urim" - 16.12.17   Photo - Ezra Hadad


In the next week several other birders saw and photographed the young Eagle and they all commented on how "obliging" it was… not a good sign. There was even a day that a group of 15 photographers managed to walk up to the Eagle that was sitting on a pylon and to photograph it from below.

That evening I spoke with colleagues from the Nature and Parks Authority and we decided to make an effort to catch the bird and set it free.

Several days passed and I received some amazing images from Ezra Hadad that was birding in the area. Ezra managed to get VERY close to the Eagle, so close that he had to back up to fit it in the camera frame.


Ezra got some amazing shots of the bird and study of the images revealed another disturbing fact, besides the leather straps the Eagle also had bells on its feet, not a very good thing for a bird of prey that needs to hunt. It seemed that not only is the bird fairly used to human presence, it probably has real difficulty to hunt. We were now worried that the Eagle is not only tame but also very very weak…



Straps & Bells - not a good thing for a bird of prey that needs to hunt. 16.12.2017

Photo - Ezra Hadad


An interesting twist in the story happened that evening when Ezra posted some images of the bird on his Facebook page. He was contacted by an Egyptian farmer called Amer el Rais. Amer claimed that the Eagle was his, that her name is Candy and that she escaped from his farm a couple of months before!

Amer lives near the town of Port Said, about 200 Kms away from the fields of the west Negev (As the Eagle flies). Amer said he has a Quail farm and that he purchased the Eagle from raptor merchants last year for less than $100 (!) He said he loves his Eagle and that he named her Candy because she is sweet and beautiful.



Al Rais with "Candy"



"Training camp" in Egypt... 


Amer sent some photos with the Eagle and even a video where Candy can be seen in hunting training! Amer said he will be happy to come to the Negev and help us capture the bird, he was sure that if he called her she will come!

So the search was on, it was decided that the next time the Eagle is seen we will try to capture it. The word was spread to all birders in Israel but some days passed and the Eagle was not seen.


Finally last week the Eagle was relocated by local Negev birder Olga Chagina. Olga immediately noticed the Eagle was very weak so she quickly called a local vet that specializes in birds. The Vet, Dr. Agur collected a couple of chickens and headed to the fields. Olga and the doctor offered a chicken to the starving Eagle which jumped on the meal. The bird was so weak and so tolerant that Dr. Agur managed to literally walk up to the Eagle and to pick it up!


The Eagle was taken into care and devoured over a kilogram of meat, it was clearly famished! A few hours later Dr. Agur finally removed the heavy straps and bells and the Eagle was free.

"Candy" was transferred to the wildlife hospital for some tests. It will strengthen and if all goes well will be released back to the wild in a few days.

We hope this amazing story will have a happy ending and that for the first time in her life Candy will truly be free.


Jonathan Meyrav   



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