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Assessing reintroduction outcome: comparison of the juvenile post-fledging dependence period between wild and reintroduced Bonelli’s eagles in two Mediterranean islands

  • Ecologia applicata Italia
  • Ecologia Applicata Italia srl
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Islands are key areas for biodiversity; however, they are extremely sensitive to anthropic actions. This has led to local species extinctions, especially large predators such as raptors. Consequently, reintroduction and conservation projects aimed at reversing population decline of endangered species have recently gained popularity. Nevertheless, their relatively elevated cost and chance of failure make them controversial, hence assessing their effectiveness is essential. Within the early stages of raptors, the post-fledging dependency period (PFDP) is the one in which individuals must face dangers without having completely developed their skills. Thereby, comparing PFDP patterns concerning reintroduced and wild individuals is of major interest as it would help to plan and improve future conservation actions. We analyzed the behavior of 38 juvenile Bonelli’s eagles (15 reintroduced and 23 wild) tracked through GPS telemetry, tagged as nestlings in two insular environments. The study period encompassed a total of nine-year movement data from reintroduced chicks in Mallorca (Spain) and wild chicks from Sicily (Italy). Movement parameters (i.e., age of first flight, age of dispersal, length of the PFDP, revisits to the natal or release area, and residence time in them) were analyzed together with their behavior during the PFDP for reintroduced and wild individuals. Similar movement patterns were obtained for both origins, although wild individuals revisited the natal site more often and dispersed earlier. Behavior was also similar, it varied throughout the PFDP, observing a more abrupt progress in wild individuals and an earlier development of travelling and hunting behaviors. Observed differences are probably related to food availability, which can improve body condition and thus delay onset of dispersal, together with parental presence, which can prompt an earlier ending of the PFDP by encouraging juvenile independence.
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Assessing reintroduction outcome: comparison of
the juvenile post-edging dependence period
between wild and reintroduced Bonelli’s eagles in
two Mediterranean islands
University of Valencia
University of Valencia
Grupo de Rehabilitación de la Fauna Autóctona y su Hábitat (GREFA)
Ecologia Applicata Italia, Termini Imerese (PA)
Grupo de Rehabilitación de la Fauna Autóctona y su Hábitat (GREFA)
Grupo de Rehabilitación de la Fauna Autóctona y su Hábitat (GREFA)
University of Palermo
Grupo de Rehabilitación de la Fauna Autóctona y su Hábitat (GREFA)
Ecologia Applicata Italia, Termini Imerese (PA)
LIFE Bonelli. Govern de les Illes Balears. Santa Eugènia. Mallorca. Balearic Islands
Ecologia Applicata Italia, Termini Imerese (PA)
Research Article
Keywords: island environment, movement ecology, post-edging dependence period, raptors,
reintroduction, telemetry
Posted Date: April 11th, 2022
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License: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. 
Read Full License
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Islands are key areas for biodiversity; however, they are extremely sensitive to anthropic actions. This has
led to local species extinctions, especially large predators such as raptors. Consequently, reintroduction
and conservation projects aimed at reversing population decline of endangered species have recently
gained popularity. Nevertheless, their relatively elevated cost and chance of failure make them
controversial, hence assessing their effectiveness is essential. Within the early stages of raptors, the post-
edging dependency period (PFDP) is the one in which individuals must face dangers without having
completely developed their skills. Thereby, comparing PFDP patterns concerning reintroduced and wild
individuals is of major interest as it would help to plan and improve future conservation actions. We
analyzed the behavior of 38 juvenile Bonelli’s eagles (15 reintroduced and 23 wild) tracked through GPS
telemetry, tagged as nestlings in two insular environments. The study period encompassed a total of
nine-year movement data from reintroduced chicks in Mallorca (Spain) and wild chicks from Sicily (Italy).
Movement parameters (i.e., age of rst ight, age of dispersal, length of the PFDP, revisits to the natal or
release area, and residence time in them) were analyzed together with their behavior during the PFDP for
reintroduced and wild individuals. Similar movement patterns were obtained for both origins, although
wild individuals revisited the natal site more often and dispersed earlier. Behavior was also similar, it
varied throughout the PFDP, observing a more abrupt progress in wild individuals and an earlier
development of travelling and hunting behaviors. Observed differences are probably related to food
availability, which can improve body condition and thus delay onset of dispersal, together with parental
presence, which can prompt an earlier ending of the PFDP by encouraging juvenile independence.
Islands are key areas for biodiversity and for this reason many of them were included in the 25 Global
Biodiversity Hotspots (Myers et al. 2000). The study of island environments has traditionally led to great
advances within the eld of ecology and conservation biology (MacArthur and Wilson, 1963; Diamond
1975) and this has led to consider islands as natural laboratories (Vitousek et al 2002). However, islands
are not exempt from human activities, indeed they have been experiencing them since prehistory (Duncan
et al. 2013) and more than 60% of recorded extinctions were insular endemic species (Gates and Donald
2000; Tershy et al. 2015). Due to their top position in food webs, large predators have experienced rapid
population declines worldwide (Peltonen and Hanski 1991; Rosenzweig and Clark 1994). Consequently,
different conservation plans including large predators like raptors have been developed to date (O’Rourke
2014; Dzialak et al 2007). These plans range from population monitoring and environmental
management in order to improve local conditions for particular species or ecosystems, to reintroduction
projects of endangered species, among others. In fact, overall extinction risk is greater for species that
inhabit insular environments than continents (Hoffmann et al. 2010), and hence several conservation
projects are being addressed to halt the decrease in population numbers of birds that have entered on the
brink of extinction. One of the most popular actions of these projects is to reintroduce individuals in those
areas where species went extinct in the past.
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Reintroduction and relocation are specic methods widely used in conservation programs, and the study
of their biological signicance has been increasing dramatically since the 1990s (Seddon et al. 2007;
Efrat et al. 2020). Among raptors, successful reintroductions in islands include species such as the
Peregrine falcon (
Falco peregrinus
) (Tordoff and Redig 2001), the Mauritius kestrel (
Falco punctatus
(Nicoll et al. 2004) and Seychelles’ Kestrel (
Falco araea
) (Watson 1981; Ferrer et al. 2019). However,
reintroduction projects are often controversial, mainly due to their potential high economic cost (Ferrer et
al. 2017) and their possible lack of success (Fischer and Lindermayer 2000), which is often perceived in
detriment of conservation budget for wildlife in some areas (Seddon et al. 2007; Armstrong and Seddon
2008) instead of considering the sum of this and other conservation techniques a way of adding
synergetic measures up.
One of the most crucial stages for birds of prey when colonizing new territories or settling in existing ones
is the juvenile dispersal period or natal dispersal (Bowler and Benton 2005), which can be dened as the
movements performed by juveniles of long-lived species, from their natal site to their rst breeding site
(Howard 1960, Greenwood 1980, Geeenwod and Harvey 1982). In many cases, the departure from the
natal site is preceded by exploratory movements during the phase known as the post-edging juvenile
dependence period (hereafter PFDP), which spans from the rst ight from the nest to the onset of
dispersal (Ferrer 1993; Balbontín and Ferrer 1993; Ramos et al. 2019). During this time, individuals
usually perform exploratory ights of different lengths and eventually return to their natal area until the
actual dispersal starts (Kenward et al. 1993; Walls and Kenward 1995; Cadahía et al. 2008; Weston et al.
2013). The PFDP is thus a critical stage of the early life of juveniles, where they must face natural and
anthropic mortality risks in parallel to the development of ying, hunting and social skills (Weathers and
Sullivan 1989; Ferrer 1992).
Global population decline of raptors (McClure et al. 2018; McClure and Rolek 2020) has led to the
implementation of conservation programs worldwide. In Europe, European Union-funded projects
addressed specically to the conservation of endangered raptors throughout different European
countries, including some of their islands, in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, and Greece. Although the
juvenile PFDP and onset of dispersal have been studied in raptors by means of radio-tracking and
satellite telemetry (e.g., Cadahía et al. 2007b; Monti et al. 2012; López-López et al. 2014; Rahman et al.
2015) there is little knowledge on this stage of the life cycle of reintroduced individuals in comparison to
wild individuals, especially in insular environments. This information is crucial for reintroduction projects
in which much of the captive breeding efforts can be spoilt in the early stages of this process (Robert et
al. 2015). To evaluate the effectiveness of these conservation measures, monitoring of different
populations in which conservation actions are being performed is necessary (IUCN – SSC Species
Conservation Planning Sub-Committee 2017). Nowadays, with the development of remote tracking
technologies, the use of dataloggers allows not only accurate wildlife tracking for assessing conservation
plans but also broadens the understanding of animal ecology in terms of movement ecology and animal
behavior (Kays et al. 2015). Cutting-edge technologies, such as telemetry, provide researchers with
massive amounts of precise locations, enabling the study of movement patterns and the interactions
with other individuals or the environment. This technology can report crucial information of an
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individual’s location, accelerometry and physiological parameters (López-López 2016) throughout
different stages of its life cycle. Dataloggers have been widely used to study raptors’ dispersal (Cadahía
et al. 2007b, Cadahía et al. 2010; Soutullo et al 2006) and, to a lesser extent, PFDP (López-López et al.
2014; Krüger and Amar 2017).
Here we analyzed the juvenile PFDP in a threatened raptor, the Bonelli’s eagle (
Aquila fasciata
), in two
different islands of the Mediterranean Basin in relation to the origin of the individuals: reintroduced birds
in Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain) in comparison to wild birds in Sicily (Italy). Our study is thus aimed
at evaluating whether the individual’s origin or sex has an effect on the natural behavior during the PFDP
and onset of dispersal of the species, all of it from an island environment perspective by means of
GPS/GSM telemetry. We examined this period by establishing different parameters at which individuals
performed essential movements in addition to the different behaviors and their variation throughout the
whole PFDP. If pre-release and post-release actions were successful, we would expect wild and
reintroduced individuals to accomplish the different parameters at a similar age, except for the onset of
dispersal, which presumably might take place later in captive-reared individuals as they are fed ad-libitum
and, ultimately, do not account for parental presence to modify their behavior.
Materials And Methods
Study species
The Bonelli’s eagle is a medium-sized long-lived raptor, unevenly distributed in the Palearctic, Afrotropical
and Indomalayan regions. This eagle has experienced a considerable decline during the last decades,
especially in Europe (BirdLife International 2015) where it shows a circum-Mediterranean distribution.
These circumstances led to the Bonelli’s eagle being considered by the IUCN as “nearly threatened” in
Europe (BirdLife International 2015). Bonelli’s eagles usually breed between January and June nesting in
cliffs and trees. On average (± standard deviation), juveniles perform their rst ight at the age of 63 ± 6
days and begin dispersal at an age of 163 ± 17 days, with a PFDP spanning 98 ± 18 days (Real et al.
Study area
This study took place in two Mediterranean islands: Sicily (Italy) and Mallorca (Spain), where European-
funded Bonelli’s eagle conservation actions are being performed. Through the second half of the last
century, Bonelli’s eagle populations in these islands decreased principally because of habitat degradation,
direct persecution by poachers, poisoning, and electrocution on power lines(Real and Mañosa 1997; Real
et al. 2001; BirdLife International 2015; Hernández-Matías et al. 2015; Iglesias et al. 2018). It even became
locally extinct in Mallorca during the late 60s (Viada et al. 2015) and the Italian population diminished in
such a way that they currently only breed in Sicily, becoming extinct from Sardinia (López-López et al.
2012; Di Vittorio et al. 2012). To counteract this situation, the European Union funded two projects: the
“LIFE Bonelli” (LIFE12 NAT/ES/000701) for the conservation of Bonelli’s eagle in Mallorca and the Iberian
Peninsula, and the “LIFE ConRaSi” (LIFE14 NAT/IT/001017) for the conservation of Bonelli’s eagle, along
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with Egyptian Vulture (
Neophron percnopterus
) and Lanner Falcon (
Falco biarmicus
) inSicily. Both
islands are relatively large and close to mainland. Mallorca has an area of 3640 km2 and it is 220 km
apart from the Iberian Peninsula, whereas Sicily has a total extent of 25711 km2 and is isolated from the
Italic peninsula by the Strait of Messina which is 3 km wide at its narrowest point. These two islands
have areas with an abrupt orography that provides cliffs and forests, which constitute a suitable
environment for the establishment of new breeding territories (Cramp and Simmons 1980). They also
contain scrubland areas and non-irrigated agricultural areas, which favor the presence of potential prey,
including rabbits, pigeons and lizards (Di Vittorio et al. 2012; Viada et al 2015).
Overall, 44 individuals were tagged from 2011 to 2019; 27 wild chicks were tagged in Sicily from 2017 to
2019, whereas 17 reintroduced juveniles were tagged in Mallorca from 2011 to 2016. Wild chicks were
marked at the nest at the age of 45–50 days approximately following standard procedures (e.g., Cadahía
et al. 2007a). Reintroduced individuals were either bred in captivity in different centers in Spain and
France (GREFA, Vendée and Ardèche dependents of UFCS/LPO) (n = 11) or extracted from natural nests
from different localities in Andalusia (Spain) (n = 9). When aged 45–55 days, reintroduced individuals
were tagged and relocated to Mallorca. They were released through hacking cage and fed
ad libitum
avoiding contact with humans once the juveniles were inside the hacking. The hacking cage consisted of
a big cage with an articial nest in the inside together with perches. Juveniles spend the rst days
enclosed inside this articial nest to protect them from predators. After 7–10 days the nest is opened, and
juveniles can move around the cage. Inside this hacking cage juveniles were fed
ad libitum
with dead
prey, when juveniles were around 75 days live prey was provided. Once all the juveniles were able to hunt
and were in an adequate physical condition, hacking cage was opened for their release (Viada and
Iglesias 2017). Hacking cages were located along the Serra de Tramuntana, in the northwest of Mallorca
Island. Around the hacking area, juveniles were provided with platforms for external feeding, which was
supplied until none of the released birds further visited the hacking area. Wild individuals were raised by
their parents and were all tagged with solar-powered E-OBS dataloggers. Diet studies conducted in Sicily
during the breeding season by collecting pellets from the nest showed that Bonelli’s eagles fed mainly on
pigeon and wild rabbit (Di Vittorio et al. 2018).
Juveniles were tagged with GPS/GSM transmitters. Reintroduced individuals were tagged with solar-
powered dataloggers manufactured by Ecotone 30 g (n = 3), E-OBS 48 g (n = 6), NorthStar 45 g Geotrack
s/n GC106 (n = 1) and Microwave PTT-100 45 g GPS/Argos solar (n = 7). Wild individuals were raised by
their parents and were all tagged with solar-powered E-OBS dataloggers. Transmitters were mounted in a
backpack conguration designed to ensure that the harness would fall off at the end of the tag’s life
(Garcelon 1985), which is approximately 3 years, as it varies depending on the sampling rate and battery
size (Rempel and Rogers 1997). Although it has been proven that satellite backpack tagging of raptors
has no effect on their ecology and behaviour (Sergio et al. 2015), Gracelon’s harnessing method was
selected because of its demonstrated lack of effect on soaring raptors (Garcia et al. 2021). The mass of
the equipment, including the harness, metal ring and tag, was below 3% of the bird’s body mass, which is
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within recommended limits (Kenward 2000). Juveniles’ sex was determined by morphometrics and
genetic determination following Palma et al. (2001).
Given that transmitters were initially programmed to record locations at different time intervals depending
on battery levels, we subsampled locations at ve minutes intervals to homogenize the overall dataset.
Data were retrieved, stored and downloaded from the online data repository Movebank
(""). Only birds that completed the entire PFDP were considered for this study.
PFDP parameters and spatial analysis
To characterize the major events of the PFDP we calculated the following parameters: i) age of rst ight;
ii) age of dispersal; iii) length of the PFDP; iv) residence time; and v) number of revisits to the nest or
hacking site. The age of rst ight was calculated by means of the “recurse” R package (Bracis et al.
2018). This package allows establishing a central point and a circular area around it for which it counts
the number of visits and time spent inside and outside the area. Thereby, we set the central point as the
coordinates of the nest or hacking location. The radius was set to 50 m, which accounts for twice the
nominal error of the GPS. As a result, we obtained the number of revisits and residence time around their
nest or release site (i.e., nest or hacking). First ight day was set as the rst time that juveniles registered
a revisit, being recorded more than 50 m away for more than 30 minutes apart from the nest or hacking
site, as long as it was followed by regular revisits through the following days, together with visual
inspection of telemetry information.
To assess the onset of dispersal we calculated the Net Squared Displacement (NSD), which measures the
squared distance between the origin and further locations to gauge movements patterns (Bunneeld et al.
2011; Cagnacci et al. 2016). Here, NSD was measured from the nest/hacking site location to all
subsequent locations to obtain the day at which juveniles started dispersal. The onset of dispersal was
distinguished by an abrupt departure in the NSD which was not followed by any return to the natal area in
the following month (Supplementary Material S1: Fig. S1 – S2). The total length of the PFDP was thus
calculated as the difference between the onset of dispersal and the date of the rst ight. PFDP
parameters were compared by means of Wilcoxon rank sum tests either regarding juveniles’ origin or sex.
Provided that we performed multiple comparisons, we adjusted the p-values using the Benjamini –
Hochberg method implemented in the “p.adjust” function of the “Stats” R package (Benjamini and
Hochberg 1995).
We analyzed temporal variations in behavior by classifying individual’s behavior through an unsupervised
approach to multivariate data clustering, the Expectation Maximization binary Clustering (EMbC) (Garriga
et al. 2016). This algorithm allows annotation of behaviours through correlation as it considers the
velocity and the turning angle of the individual between consecutive GPS locations recorded at regular
intervals. Local estimates of velocity and turning angle establish segmentation limits, allowing
categorization of behavior into four groups: high velocity-high turning angle (HH), high velocity-low
turning angle (HL), low velocity-high turning angle (LH) and low velocity-low turning angle (LL). These
four classes were classied into behaviors: HH as active hunting, HL as travelling/relocating, LH as
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searching/foraging and LL as resting (for further details on this method see Garriga et al. 2016; review in
Bennison et al. 2018).
We performed Linear Mixed Models (LMM) (Zuur et al. 2009) to assess differences in movement
parameters in relation to sex, origin, and age. These parameters were the age of rst ight, age of
dispersal, length of the PFDP, residence time and number of revisits. In each LMM we settled as
dependent variable each of the parameters, independent variables were “origin” and “sex”, and “year” was
established as a random factor. EMbC results were also analyzed with LMM. In this case, the dependent
variable was each of the movements obtained (i.e., hunting, travelling, foraging, and resting), “origin”,
“sex” and “week” (i.e., week after edging) were considered as independent variables, and “year” as
random factor. We compared and ranked the different models using the Akaike’s Information Criterion
(AIC) (Akaike 1973). The model with the lowest AIC value was selected as the best one. When two or more
models were considered as valid (i.e., AIC values differed in less than two AICc units), modelling average
was conducted to evaluate the contribution of each independent factor by means of the MuMin R
package (Barton 2020). All analyses were performed in R Statistic software version 4.0.2 (R Core Team
2020). Statistical signicance was set al α < 0.05.
From the 44 birds initially tagged, a total of 38 individuals were considered in this study: 15 from
Mallorca and 23 from Sicily. Individuals which did not complete the dependence period or whose track
was lost during this time span were not included. A total of 846 087 GPS locations were recorded and
analyzed in this study.
Overall, wild individuals tended to develop sooner than reintroduced ones (Fig. 1). The rst ight (Fig. 1a)
in wild individuals took place at an age of 64 ± 6 days (range 56 – 75 days), while reintroduced
individuals ew at 68 ± 8 days (range 57 – 90 days), although no signicant differences were found (U =
= 0.146). The onset of dispersal (Fig. 1b) occurred at a signicantly earlier age in wild birds
(158 ± 18 days; range 125 – 211 days) than in reintroduced individuals (168 ± 22 days; range 137 – 223
days) (U = 252.50,
= 0.018). Thus, the whole dependence period (Fig. 1c), from rst ight to dispersal,
was shorter for wild birds (90 ± 20 days; range 54 – 151 days) than for reintroduced ones (100 ± 25 days;
range 62 – 158 days) although no signicant differences were found (U = 22,
= 0.209).
With regards to residence time (Fig. 1d), wild individuals spent less time in the nest area (7.43 ± 8.18
days; range 0.003 – 28.39 days) than reintroduced ones did in the hacking site (13.47 ± 12.04 days;
range 0.03 – 34.34 days) although no signicant differences were found (U = 222,
= 0.144). In contrast,
the number of visits to the hacking site (Fig. 1e) for reintroduced individuals (17 ± 27 revisits; range 1 –
98 revisits) were signicantly fewer than those of wild individuals to the nest (60 ± 50 revisits; range 1 –
187 revisits) (U = 70,
= 0.002).
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Pooling wild and reintroduced birds, no differences between sexes were found for any of the analyzed
parameters (all
> 0.05). Age of rst ight was 66 ± 9 days (range 56 – 90 days) and 67 ± 5 days (range
57 – 75 days) for males and females, respectively (U = 211,
= 0.346). Males began dispersal at a
slightly earlier age (157 ± 20 days; range 125 – 211 days) than females (163 ± 21 days; range 126-223
days) (U = 220,
= 0.228), resulting in a total dependence period of 91 ± 23 days for males (range 62 –
151) and 97 ± 21 days for females (range 54 – 158) (U = 218,
= 0.25). The residence time was 9.81 ±
10.94 days (range 0.003 – 34.34 days) and 9.82 ± 9.49 days (range 0.06 – 29.48 days) for males and
females, respectively, with no signicant differences observed (U = 194,
= 0.663). Similarly, no
differences in the number of visits to the nest or hacking site were observed for males (49 ± 50 revisits;
range 1 – 187 revisits) and females (43 ± 45 revisits; range 1 – 151 revisits) (U = 192,
= 0.702) (Fig. 1).
The best models differed for each parameter (Table 1). The age of rst ight and the length of the PFDP
were not affected neither by sex, origin, or their combination. The number of revisits were accounted for
the origin, the additive effect of sex and origin, and their interaction. After model averaging of the best
LMMs, origin inuenced age of dispersal (Z = 2.158;
= 0.003) and number of revisits (Z = 2.641;
0.008). Finally, all factors were included as predictors of residence time in all models.
When analyzing the movements from the different individuals, we observed that searching/foraging
behavior decreased over time as travelling and active hunting increased (Fig. 2). LMM analyses showed
that the differences in the share of time spent on each behavior varied as the PFDP progressed, mainly
for hunting, traveling, and foraging (Table 2), although it did not have an effect on the resting behavior.
Nevertheless, these transitions in the percentage of time invested in each behavior tent to be earlier and
more abrupt in wild individuals than in reintroduced ones, especially for the travelling behavior (Fig. 2). In
fact, at the end of the PFDP, at week 14, half of the individuals had already begun dispersal.
Regarding origin (Fig. 3), we observed that throughout the whole juvenile PFDP, most of the time was
invested in searching/foraging and resting activities; searching/foraging accounted for 47.93% of the
time for wild and a 49.62 % of the time for reintroduced birds. Wild individuals spent 11.57% of the time
in active hunting activities while reintroduced ones invested 6.14%. Concerning movements of travelling
and resting, they represented only 9.51% and 30.99% of the time, respectively, for wild individuals. In
comparison, reintroduced individuals invested more time in resting, accounting for 37.90% of the time,
and slightly less in travelling, which represented the 6.34% (Fig. 3).
New advances in wildlife tracking have allowed obtaining a large number of records with great precision
that would have never been recorded with traditional methods such as ringing or radio-tracking. However,
one of the key challenges of studying wildlife with GPS/GSM telemetry is the lack of observational data
that endows recorded locations with biological sense. To ll this gap, new tools that allow the
categorization of movements in an automatized and objective way have arisen, enabling researchers to
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analyze not only ecological parameters but also behaviors. Thanks to the development of devices that
continuously track individuals and analytical tools that allow the study of movement data, here we have
thoroughly analyzed the PFDP and given biological signicance to individuals’ movements.
Our results showed that the PFDP resulted in a similar time span for wild and reintroduced individuals,
with both performing therst ight at a similar age. This rst ight can only take place once juveniles are
fully feathered, which occurs at an age of approximately 60 days (Gil-Sánchez 2000), and are in an
appropriate physical condition. Our results agree with the ones obtained from the study conducted on
Montagu’s harrier (
Cyrcus pygargus
), in which reintroduced and wild juveniles showed no differences
during the PFDP and similar behavior (Amar et al. 2000).
Wild individuals depend on their parents during the juvenile PFDP for food provisioning, however, towards
the end of the PDFP, raptor parents tend to decrease investment in their offspring, reducing the amount of
prey delivered to the juveniles (Ceballos and Donázar 1990; Arroyo et al. 2001). This reduction
encourages juveniles to develop hunting and ying skills and promotes their departure from their natal
area to avoid intraspecic competition (Trivers 1974). In fact, parental aggression towards the juveniles
has been reported for the Spanish imperial eagle (
Aquila adalberti
) at the end of the PFDP (Alonso et al.
1986) and harpy eagle (
Harpia harpyja
) (Urios et al. 2017). Reintroduced individuals do not account for
this parental presence, on the contrary, they are fed in order to keep them in the release site as long as
possible to favor their return and settlement there. In this situation, juvenile Bonelli’s eagles depart from
the natal site presumably when they acquire an optimal body condition as seen in other raptors (Ferrer
1992; Walls et al. 1999; Delgado et al. 2010). However, raptor juveniles tend to expand their PFDP and
remain in the parental territory to benet from their hunting areas and protection from other conspecics
(Weston et al. 2018). The fact that reintroduced individuals disperse later supports the idea that the onset
of dispersal is mostly driven by the individual, although parental presence can prompt it. Also, it is worth
noting that food availability does not seem to prevent dispersal departure from their natal territory, as
juveniles which were fed
ad libitum
eventually abandon their hacking site, although it could delay the
onset of dispersal as seen in Vergara et al. (2010), where food supplemented kestrels tended to acquire
independence later. Finally, Bonelli’s eagle, as other raptors, is bounded to climate traits, which affect not
only its distribution but also its breeding success (Ontivero and Pleguezuelos 2003; Carrascal and Seoane
2009; Di Vittorio and López-López 2014). Therefore, the warmer climate of Sicily could have favored an
earlier development of wild eagles.
The age at which individuals performed their rst ight, began dispersal and the total length of the PFDP
were similar to those obtained by Real et al. (1998) who found that rst ight occurred at an average age
of 63 ± 6 days after hatching (range 52–66 days), dispersal began at an average age of 163 ± 17 days
after hatching (range 143–177 days) and thus the whole PFDP lasted for 98 ± 18 days (range = 77–113
days, n = 5 in all cases). Although age of rst ight showed similar results between both populations, in
the case of reintroduced juveniles, they were not able to perform the rst ight until the hacking cages
were opened for them by the team, so probably there were some individuals that could have own for the
rst time earlier. However, rst ight is related to feather development, and it has been shown that
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feeding of captive juveniles favors feather growth (Lacombe et al. 1994). Also, food
supplementation has been shown to allow juveniles to acquire a better physical condition and
homogenizes their development, minimizing differences among them (Muriel et al. 2015), so probably
body condition of hacked juveniles was similar when allowing them to leave the facility. In this way,
reintroduced juveniles’ age of rst ight was similar not only to the one obtained for the wild population
but also to that obtained in previous studies. The duration of the PFDP recorded here was longer than
that reported in Balbontín and Ferrer (2005) which lasted for 77 ± 19 days (range = 50–114 days, n = 28).
These differences were probably because they radio-tracked the chicks once a week and considered
dispersal started when chicks were 3.5 km apart from the nest during two consecutive observations. This
distance and timespan could correspond to a one-time excursion performed by the juvenile and not
necessary the emancipation itself as discussed by Cadahía et al. (2007a). In fact, Nygård et al. (2016)
dened an excursion in Golden Eagle (
Aquila chrysaetos
), as movements performed further than 10 km
apart from the nest with a return to the surroundings of the nest, less than 5 km apart. Different tracking
techniques, radio-tracking versus GPS/GSM telemetry, as well as the use of unbiased methods such as
recursive analyses, can explain differences in the results obtained, with much more precision and
accuracy in the later (Thomas et al. 2011).
During the whole dependence period, all individuals remained in the vicinity of the nest or hacking site a
similar amount of time, although the difference in the number of times individuals visited the nest area
suggest that parental prey deliveries in wild individuals take place around this area (Bustamante 1995).
Reintroduced individuals made little use of the hacking cage, thus using the platforms around the area
for feeding.
When observing the movements performed by the eagles throughout the whole dependence period, we
found that there were not substantial differences between wild and reintroduced birds. Overall, changes in
the share of time spent on each behavior throughout the PFDP were more gradual and occurred later in
reintroduced individuals than in wild ones. This progressiveness on the percentage of each movement
observed in all individuals and its delay is consistent with the development of ight skills, in which ights
that involve apping (i.e., searching/foraging) are rstly acquired and perfectioned with practice, and
more complex movements (i.e., active hunting and travelling/relocating) are later developed (Ruaux et al.
2020). In the Golden eagle, at the beginning of the dependence period, apping ights were found, and
complex movements developed later (Walker 2008), indeed, Weston et al. (2018) showed that the PFDP
could be divided into two phases: ontogenic phase and maintained phase. During the ontogenic phase,
eagles rst increase their mobility, during the rst 10 weeks (68 days), and later, this mobility was
maintained until week 14 (99 days). However, the ability to perform complex movements seems to be
acquired sooner if there is parental presence (Ruaux et al. 2020). Juveniles learning from parents has
also been observed in the Osprey (
Pandion haliaaetus
), where hand-raised chicks acquired hunting skills
without the presence of other conspecics (Schaadt and Rymon 1982).
According to Balbontín and Ferrer (2005), two different hypotheses could explain the onset of dispersal:
Resource Competition Hypothesis (RCH) (Howard 1960; Murray 1967) and the Ontogenic Switch
Page 12/26
Hypothesis (OSH) (Holekamp 1986). The rst one explains emancipation as a response to competition
with their conspecics for food resources, so under abundance of food they will not leave the parental
territory. The OSH states that when resources are abundant, juveniles achieve earlier the optimal body
condition and therefore emancipate earlier. Here, as Balbontín and Ferrer (2005), we observed that
behavior in Bonelli’s eagle juveniles might support the RCH, as reintroduced juveniles, which were fed
, delayed the age of dispersal. Similar results were obtained in juvenile golden eagles, which
despite acquiring enough physical capacity, remained in their parental territory (Weston et al. 2018).
Studies aimed at assessing the outcome of reintroductions such as this one are essential to provide new
insights in conservation biology, offering crucial information on the ecacy of different techniques with
applications for future reintroduction projects. Our research highlights the importance of reintroductions
together with an exhaustive monitoring of reintroduced individuals. Overall, wild and reintroduced eagles
behaved in a similar way and neither sex nor year had an effect on the PFDP. In this way, the techniques
used during the whole process did not affect the development and behaviour of individuals, as they do
not differ substantially from the wild ones. Our results also illustrate that although parents are not
responsible for the onset of dispersal, they can prompt an earlier ending of the dependence period and in
conditions of high food availability, juveniles delay their onset of dispersal.
Data Availability Statement
All data used in this study are publicly available upon request to data managers in the online data
repository Movebank (, project “Bonelli's eagle Mallorca. Life Bonelli / AQUILA a-
LIFE” (project ID = 1019304600) and project “LIFE ConRaSi - Bonelli's eagle” (project ID = 268207241).
Author contributions
OE-C and PL-L contributed equally to this paper. OE-C and PL-L conceived the ideas and designed
methodology; GC, MDV, MG, JJI, MLV, JM, SM, and CV collected the data; OE-C and PL-L analyzed the
data; OE-C and PL-L led the writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed critically to the drafts and
gave nal approval for publication. This research did not receive any specic grant from funding
agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-prot sectors.
Funding declaration
Bonelli’s eagles’ raw data were provided by two projects co-funded by European Union: “LIFE Bonelli”
(LIFE12 NAT/ES/000701) in Mallorca and “LIFE ConRaSi” (LIFE14 NAT/IT/001017) in Sicily. The authors
declare that no grants or other support were received during the preparation of this manuscript.
Competing interests’ statement
Page 13/26
The authors have no relevant nancial or non-nancial interests to disclose.
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Table 1.- Model selection ranking for each parameter (i.e., age of dispersal, age of first
flight, PFDP length, number of revisits and residence time) in relation to origin, age, sex,
their additive effects and their interaction. Best models are highlighted in bold. (df =
degrees of freedom, AIC = Akaike Information Criterion, AICw = model weight).
Page 20/26
Parameter Model df AIC ∆AIC AICw
First flight Intercept 3 -53.459 0.000 0.859
Origin 4 -49.302 4.157 0.107
Sex 4 -46.735 6.725 0.030
Origin + Sex 5 -42.622 10.837 0.004
Origin + Sex + Origin*Sex 6 -37.134 16.325 0.000
Age dispersal Intercept 3 -40.543 0.000 0.677
Origin 4 -38.578 1.965 0.254
Sex 4 -35.413 5.130 0.052
Origin + Sex 5 -32.961 7.581 0.015
Origin + Sex + Origin*Sex 6 -28.585 11.957 0.002
PFDP length Intercept 3 5.507 0.000 0.772
Origin 4 9.034 3.527 0.132
Sex 4 10.049 4.542 0.080
Origin + Sex 5 13.617 8.110 0.013
Origin + Sex + Origin*Sex 6 16.914 11.407 0.003
Revisits Origin 4 141.118 0.000 0.463
Origin + Sex 5 142.490 1.372 0.233
Origin + Sex + Origin*Sex 6 142.726 1.609 0.207
Intercept 3 145.049 3.931 0.065
Sex 4 146.430 5.312 0.032
Residence Time Origin + Sex + Origin*Sex 6 182.204 0.000 0.356
Origin 4 183.454 1.251 0.190
Origin + Sex 5 183.623 1.419 0.175
Intercept 3 183.999 1.795 0.145
Sex 4 184.152 1.948 0.134
Page 21/26
Table 2.- Model selection ranking for each behavior obtained by means of the Expectation
Maximization Binary Clustering (EMbC) algorithm (i.e., resting, foraging, travelling and
hunting) in relation to origin, age, sex, their additive effects and their interaction. Best
models are highlighted in bold. (df = degrees of freedom, AIC = Akaike Information
Criterion, AICw = model weight).
Page 22/26
Movement Model df AIC ∆AICc AICw
Resting Intercept 3 -519.261 0.000 0.889
Origin 4 -514.754 4.507 0.093
Sex 4 -511.368 7.893 0.017
Week 22 -405.127 114.135 0.000
Sex + Origin + Week 24 -393.253 126.009 0.000
Sex + Origin + Week + Origin*Sex*Week 76 -224.237 295.025 0.000
Foraging Week 22 -208.067 0.000 0.969
Sex + Origin + Week 24 -201.208 6.859 0.031
Sex 4 -162.891 45.176 0.000
Intercept 3 -162.688 45.379 0.000
Origin 4 -156.887 51.179 0.000
Sex + Origin + Week + Origin*Sex*Week 76 -35.3233 172.743 0.000
Travelling Week 22 -729.816 0.000 0.998
Sex + Origin + Week 24 -716.607 13.209 0.001
Intercept 3 -713.564 16.252 0.000
Sex 4 -708.759 21.057 0.000
Origin 4 -707.531 22.285 0.000
Sex + Origin + Week + Origin*Sex*Week 76 -465.041 264.775 0.000
Hunting Week 22 -1172.54 0.000 0.943
Sex + Origin + Week 24 -1166.94 5.604 0.057
Origin 4 -1097.35 75.186 0.000
Intercept 3 -1096.12 76.425 0.000
Sex 4 -1091.92 80.622 0.000
Sex + Origin + Week + Origin*Sex*Week 76 -861.499 311.042 0.000
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Figure 1
Comparison of ve parameters used to characterize the post-edging dependence period of wild and
reintroduced juvenile Bonelli’s eagles in two Mediterranean islands, Sicily and Mallorca, respectively.
Boxplots represent median as well as 25% and 75% quartiles. Outliers are shown as dots.
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Figure 2
Percentage of time spent by juvenile Bonelli’s eagles on the four categories of behavior computed using
the unsupervised Expectation Maximization binary Clustering (EMbC) method throughout the juvenile
post-edging dependence period by origin and sex. Grey areas represent standard error.
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Figure 3
General share of time of juvenile Bonelli’s eagles spent on the four categories of behavior obtained by
means of the Expectation Maximization Binary Clustering (EMbC) algorithm by origin (i.e., wild or
reintroduced) during the PFDP.
Supplementary Files
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This is a list of supplementary les associated with this preprint. Click to download.
Full-text available
The Bonelli's eagle is one of the rarest and most threatened birds of prey in Europe, which means that great efforts are being made to guarantee its conservation. One of the lines of work is the reintroduction of specimens in areas where the species has recently become extinct and those in which the factors that caused its disappearance have been corrected. The present study presents the results of one of these reintroduction projects carried out in Navarra, Northern Spain, between 2011 and 2021. Forty-seven individuals (36 born in captivity and 11 from wild nests) were released in five places close to historical territories. After those 11 years of work, the occupation of two of the historical and the creation of a new one has been achieved. 44.68 % of the birds died in the first year after their release and 19.14%, during the first month in the field. No significant differences were found associated with the sex or the origin of the specimens in survival during the first month or during the first year after release. 48 % of deaths were related to anthropogenic causes (electrocution, wind farm collision, indeterminate trauma, shooting and poisoning), while 44% were due to predation by mammals or big raptors. This last result had not been described until now and suggests that, when the causes of death of human origin are corrected, those of natural origin appear. The application of this type of actions as a conservation tool for the species is discussed.
Full-text available
Conservation translocations are a widespread tool commonly used to prevent the extinction of species locally and globally. However, conservation transloca-tions are complicated operations which often fail, especially when they involve the release of captive-bred animals. In order to survive, translocated animals need to adapt to a new environment; the success of this adaptation depends, to a large extent, on the characteristics of the release environment and on early life experiences that can affect the animals' proficiencies. We tested the effects of different early life experiences and differences in the release environment on the survival of captive-bred translocated Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) in Israel, where they are critically endangered. We used a mark-resight approach to calculate survival using a large dataset containing 9 years of observations of individually-marked vultures. We found that the Griffon Vultures' survival was positively affected by their age at release and the time they spent in the wild. We also found that survival was affected by rearing method, release site and release season. Our results emphasize the critical importance of the release protocol to the success of a conservation translocation project. Furthermore , our results show how events occurring during the entire pre-release period can have important repercussions many years later when the captive animal is released into the wild, but also that experience gained post-release plays a major role in the animals' survival. K E Y W O R D S captive breeding,
Full-text available
Context: Dietary analyses are essential to achieve a better understanding of animals’ ecology. In the case of endangered species, assessing dietary requirements is crucial to improving their management and conservation. The Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata) has experienced a severe decline throughout its breeding range in Europe and, in Italy, fewer than 50 pairs remain, and only in Sicily. This species is subject to major threats including changes in landscape composition and consequently, prey availability, which is further aggravated by the occurrence of viral diseases in the case of rabbits. Aims: To provide current data on the diet of the Bonelli’s eagle in Sicily during the breeding period and to examine dietary shifts with regard to previous studies conducted in the same study area. To discuss possible implications for conservation of the Italian population of this endangered species. Methods: We used a combination of three methods, including pellet analysis, collection of prey remains, and imagery from camera-traps installed at nests, to examine the diet of 12 breeding pairs of Bonelli’s eagle from 2011 – 2017. We compared this information with data collected between 1993 and 1998 in the same study area. Key results: In number, birds were the most frequently predated items (61.6%), followed by mammals (36.88%) and reptiles (1.52%). However, in terms of biomass, mammals were the main prey (65.71%), followed by birds (34.12%) and reptiles (0.17%). There was a decrease over the course of the current decade in the consumption of European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) which was compensated for with an increase in both dietary diversity and breadth in bird consumption; a trend not observed in the earlier study in the same region. Conclusions: Here we provide an updated assessment of diet composition of Bonelli’s eagle during the breeding period. Interestingly, we found significant differences within the study period (2011 – 2017) in terms of frequency of occurrence, percentage of biomass, dietary diversity and dietary breadth in a species at risk. Furthermore, we found significant differences between the two study periods in both frequency and percentage of biomass, with significant changes in the consumption of lagomorphs and birds. Implications: Our results indicate that shifts in diet are linked to changes in prey abundance, which may be contributing to population declines in the Bonelli’s eagle population in Sicily. Overall, measures aimed at increasing main dietary prey should be promoted to favour occupation of new territories and enhance vital demographic parameters (i.e., breeding success and survival rate) of Bonelli’s eagle across the species range. This would be particularly important for small isolated populations like the Sicilian one.
Full-text available
Animals regularly return to locations such as foraging patches, nests, dens, watering holes, or movement corridors, and these revisited locations are often sites of ecological significance. Analyzing the temporal and spatial pattern of revisitation can lead to important insights into the life history and ecology of populations. We introduce the R package recurse to calculate revisitations to locations in the movement trajectory or other locations for one or multiple individuals. The package also calculates metrics such as residence time and time between visits. It can be used to quantitatively identify frequently used sites (e.g., dens, nests, foraging locations), to examine patterns of revisitation and link them with covariates such as habitat features or climatic data, and to address conservation questions of interest about specific locations. We present an example application with movement trajectory data from a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) during the breeding season and demonstrate analyzing recursions, specific locations, seasonal and daily temporal patterns, and visit timing. The recurse package should be of interest both to ecologists looking to analyze their movement data and to conservationists needing site-specific information for management and conservation actions.
Full-text available
The movement ecology of Harpy Eagles (Harpia harpyja) is poorly known due to the difficulty observing this species. We studied the movements of two juvenile Harpy Eagles before and during dispersal using GPS satellite telemetry in the Reserva de Producción Faunística Cuyabeno, Ecuador. Both eagles were tagged at their respective nest tree. For each eagle, we calculated the daily distance moved and the distance from each recorded position to the nest. One eagle started dispersal during its 28th month, while at the same age the other eagle remained in its nest area, suffering repeated parental attacks that may have caused its death. The juvenile that dispersed moved a maximum of 35.1 km from the nest and occupied an area of 386 km². The long post-fledging and dispersal periods underscore the importance of directing conservation plans toward juveniles as well as adults. In addition, dispersal movements that are close to the natal nest facilitate the delimitation of areas for protection of Harpy Eagle nests.
Full-text available
Search behavior is often used as a proxy for foraging effort within studies of animal movement, despite it being only one part of the foraging process, which also includes prey capture. While methods for validating prey capture exist, many studies rely solely on behavioral annotation of animal movement data to identify search and infer prey capture attempts. However, the degree to which search correlates with prey capture is largely untested. This study applied seven behavioral annotation methods to identify search behavior from GPS tracks of northern gannets (Morus bassanus), and compared outputs to the occurrence of dives recorded by simultaneously deployed time–depth recorders. We tested how behavioral annotation methods vary in their ability to identify search behavior leading to dive events. There was considerable variation in the number of dives occurring within search areas across methods. Hidden Markov models proved to be the most successful, with 81% of all dives occurring within areas identified as search. k-Means clustering and first passage time had the highest rates of dives occurring outside identified search behavior. First passage time and hidden Markov models had the lowest rates of false positives, identifying fewer search areas with no dives. All behavioral annotation methods had advantages and drawbacks in terms of the complexity of analysis and ability to reflect prey capture events while minimizing the number of false positives and false negatives. We used these results, with consideration of analytical difficulty, to provide advice on the most appropriate methods for use where prey capture behavior is not available. This study highlights a need to critically assess and carefully choose a behavioral annotation method suitable for the research question being addressed, or resulting species management frameworks established.
Full-text available
Supplementary feeding is a common practice to raise reproductive output in raptors and other species; nevertheless, its application in conservation has only recently been discussed critically. Here, we analyse the effect of supplementary feeding in territorial raptors, taking advantage of two long-term datasets for the Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti) and bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). In both species, supplementary feeding was used over four years, allowing the extraction of eggs or nestlings for reintroduction programmes. Both populations increased during the last 20 years. In 2001, only 10 Spanish imperial eagle pairs were found in Sierra Morena, increasing to 91 pairs in 2015 (810% of increase). The Bearded vulture population in Aragon increased from 15 occupied territories in 1988 to 67 in 2012 (347% of increase). Density-dependent breeding productivity on habitat heterogeneity was established in both populations. Results of generalized linear mixed model analysis with relative productivity as the dependent variable, species and supplementary feeding as fixed factors, and territory as random factor showed a significant effect of supplementary feeding on relative productivity in both species as well as in the interaction between territory and supplementary feeding. This implied a different response among territories to supplementary feeding. Birds in poor-quality territories with low productivity levels responded more strongly to supplementary feeding than birds in territories with higher levels of natural productivity. A reintroduction programme based on supplementary feeding and extraction of nestlings costs eight times less than the same programme based on captive breeding and takes 10 years less. Synthesis and applications. Supplementary feeding in territorial raptors could be useful (1) in an episodic main prey collapse and (2) in poor-quality territories in a high-density population, to produce extra young for reintroduction programmes. For greatest efficiency, supplementary feeding needs to be targeted at poorer territories in which the reproductive rate has the potential to be raised by provision of extra food. The extra young produced can then be used in reintroduction programmes in which chances of recruiting to a breeding population are high.
During the post-fledging dependence period, young raptors are particularly vulnerable as they are still developing flying, hunting and social skills, and collecting spatial environmental information required for emancipation. We studied the use of space during this critical period by the highly threatened Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti, using high temporal and spatial resolution tracking devices. Ten juveniles from four different nests were tracked throughout their dependence period with GPS/GSM tags. This period lasted until a median age of 137 days (93–153). Juveniles remained within a stable home range with a median of 232 ha, but when 90–100 days old began making exploratory movements that became more frequent and extensive with the approach of emancipation. These movements had a median of 22.2 km and were usually completed within the same day, but this exploratory behaviour proved to be quite plastic, as one movement was 1291 km long and lasted 4.5 days. Moreover, three individuals that were apparently forced to emancipate particularly early seem to have virtually skipped the exploratory phase. The length of the movements varied among years within the same nest, and those of females were about twice those of males. Most movements were towards the NW, and the outgoing flight was usually against the wind. This behaviour may keep animals from flying so far from the nest that they are then unable to return. The high spatial and time resolution provided by GPS tracking resulted in data that highlight the conservation importance of the nest site until well after fledging. Measures to minimize nest disturbance should thus be extended until early October. Moreover, data show that so much of the activity of the still inexperienced juveniles is concentrated in the small pre-emancipation range that is critical to protecting its habitats and eliminating all anthropogenic sources of mortality.