Nesting habitat selection by booted eagles Hieraaetus pennatus and implications for management


*Present address and correspondence: Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK (e-mail


1.  The booted eagle Hieraaetus pennatus is a poorly known and scarce raptor that breeds in Spain. In Doñana National Park (south-west Spain) its population has increased from only six breeding pairs in the early 1980s to about 150 today.

2.  In order to guide habitat management for this raptor in Doñana National Park, we related nesting habitat selection to breeding success.

3.  Birds withstood some human disturbance when nesting, choosing sites closer to pastures besides marshes, footpaths and crops than would occur in a random distribution. Birds also selected areas near to marsh and stands of cork oak Quercus suber.

4.  Trees used for nesting were wider and taller than would occur at random. They were usually in small groups or were large isolated trees, typically eucalyptus (Eucaliptus spp.).

5.  The most productive nests were close to marshland and stone pine trees Pinus pinea.

6.  Habitat management to improve the breeding success of booted eagles in Doñana should include: (i) retaining small groups of trees or large isolated trees, especially eucalyptus and cork oaks close to marshland, isolated buildings and crops; (ii) creating clearings in stone pine plantations; (iii) burying potentially dangerous power lines to reduce collision risks; (iv) clearing some areas of scrubland to increase the rabbit population; and (v) controlling forest activities, especially in the breeding season.

7.  The increase in booted eagle populations in western Europe during recent decades may be a consequence of the species’ capacity to adapt to environmental change. Deforestation policies designed to favour agricultural use implemented during the second half of the 20th century have not had a detrimental effect on this raptor.

8.  Our work demonstrates how scarce and important organisms can be favoured by sensitive management in forestry and agricultural habitats.