Birds of prey in steppes of Russia

25-30 April 2010 a group of Ukrainian and Russian ornithologists, traveling by car on the route Luhansk (Ukraine) – Orenburg (Ukraine) to participate in the ХІІІ International Ornithological Conference have collected data on distribution and numbers of birds of prey. They are presented below.

Photo by M.Gavrilyuk, V.Vetrov, E.M.Pisanets, V.Remenny

Experts of different profile traveled by three cross-country vehicles. They were ornithologists V.P.Belik (Rostov-on-Don, Russia), V.V.Vetrov (Luhansk, Ukraine), M.Gavrilyuk (Cherkasy, Ukraine), S.P.Litvinenko (Luhansk), Yu.V.Milobog (Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine), A.B.Chapyhina (Kharkiv, Ukraine); batrachologists E.M.Pisanets, V.Remenny (both from Kyiv, Ukraine); entomologist G.Yevtushenko, botanist N.I.Konoplya (both from Luhansk); student A.Rashelevskaya (Kryvyi Rih). Three of them were doctors and four candidates of science (PhD). In spite of different inerests of the expedition members, a particular attention in the travel was paid to observation of birds of prey.

The travel in the territory of Russia crossed Rostov, Volgograd, Saratov, Samara and Orenburg regions (map). Undoutedly, having passed 2000 km for 6 days, it was hard to collect detail information. Moreover, a part of the valuable time was spent on customs, searching for roads (as a famous writer Gogol’ spoke the roads are one of two main griefs of Russia) and other unforeseen circumstances. However, even in these conditions we managed to get a general image of composition and distribution of birds of prey in steppes of South Russia.
Totally for the period of trip we observed 18 species of Falconiformes and 3 species of Owls. Above all we noticed unequal distribution and numbers of rare species of birds of prey.

Territory of Rostov region, until the esternmost part, can be characterized as rather diverse by species composition of birds of prey. Peculiar features of these areas was frequent records of hunting and displaying Montagu’s Harriers, which in places formed group colonies up to three pairs. In floodplains of small rivers were regularly seen Booted Eagles and Black Kites. Among other interesting registrations it should be noted an occupied nest of the Common Buzzard, found in a forest belt just at the asphalt road.
On the 280th km of the route, which were ridden both on asphalt and unsurfaced roads, there were counted 9 species of falcons numbering 77 ind., i.e. 2.75 ind/10 km: Osprey -1 (migratory), Black Kite – 1 pair and 9 single individuals, Sparrowhawk – 1 pair and 1 migratory bird, Booted Eagle – 3 territorial birds and 1 pair; White-tailed Eagle – 1 (juvenile), Kestrel – 2 pairs and 4 single ind., Common Buzzard – 3 pairs and 9 ind.

Starting from the eastern part of Rostov region and to the Don river at the Tryohostrovskaya village (Ilovlinka district, Volgograd region) species composition of birds of prey have changed: eagles began occuring quite regularly. For us this fact was not a surprise because Kalachskaya Oxbow of the Don is known from literary sources as a breeding site of the Imperial and Steppe Eagles. According to previous estimations the Imperial Eagle number in this region amounts to 40-50 pairs (Belik et al. 2010), and the Steppe Eagle equals to 20-25 pairs (The Red Data Book of Volgograd region, 2004). Kalachskaya Oxbow supports the northenmost and western breeding group in Russian but now its numbers are decreasing. However, the Imperial Eagle has formed there relatively isolated, powerful and, since recent time, rapidly growing population. In this area we succeeded to find 7 new nests and 1-2 breeding sites during our trip.
The reason of existence of this refuge of Eagles is evident – good colonies of little sousliks. However, it is noticable that numbers of these rodents have greatly reduced which is proved by numerous old souslik holes. The relief of Kalachskaya Oxbow is volleys and gullies. Graded areas have been ploughed for agricultural fields, they are fallow or abandoned. Rather extended virgin lands still remain along gullies and stony watersheds.
Both species of eagles in this area locate their nests in two different places – on trees and poles of power lines. We were surprised by the location of nests in the upper part of power line poles. From a distance, such nests was difficult to identifiy as those of eagles, it was difficult to determine their species, because next to them on the similar poles nested the Raven. Without seeing with your own eyes, it was hard to believe that the eagles are able to squeeze between the narrow metal partitions of these power line pylons. Once again, you realize that one of the main factors of the spread of raptors is the food availability.Often nests were built near field roads and villages. Nests of the Imperial Eagles found on trees, were located as follows: on oaks in a gully – 3 nests, on poplars in a group of trees in the floodplain; on a single poplar in the river valley.
Only several years ago, the Steppe Eagle nested also on power line pylons, but was replaced by the Imperial Eagle and during our trip such nests were not seen.
Thus, in Kalachskaya Oxbow for almost two days we have examined 13 occupied nests of the Imperial Eagle: 5 on trees and 8 on power lines, as well as one nest of the Steppe Eagles. There were observed 11 species of Falconiformes, their number on the 186th km of the route on earth roads was 4.1 ind/10 km: Black Kite – seven ind., Montagu’s Harrier – 3 ind., Marsh Harrier – 2 ind., Common Buzzard – 4 ind., Short-toed Eagle – 2 pairs, Booted Eagle – 3 ind., Steppe Eagle – 1 pair and 7 single ind., Imperial Eagle – 13 pairs (3 adults and 2 juveniles), White-tailed Eagle – 2 adults, Merlin – 1 (migratory), Common Kestrel – 4 pairs and 3 single ind.
Among owls, when we stopped for the night, in the evening on April 26 from one point of the gully there were heard voices of 3 males of Scops Owl and two Long-eared Owls.

On the afternoon of April 27, we crossed the Don River on a ferry. Further, in Volgograd and Saratov regions our route lay mostly on asphalt roads.
Only on two night stays we had an opportunity to get acquainted with the avifauna in more detail. The relief was more graded, virgin steppe sites encountered less frequently, we saw vast areas of fields, many of which abandoned. The number of Falconiformes was low, and the fauna rather monotonous. Only a record of the Levant Sparrowhawk at the Volga in Kamyshin City made variety. At the 680th km of the route it was recorded 10 species of Falconiformes, their number 0.79 ind/10 km, approximately 5 times lower than in the previous stage of the journey: Black Kite – 17 ind., Montagu’s Harrier – 3 ind., Marsh Harrier – 2 pairs and 2 ind., Levant Sparrowhawk – 1 ind., Goshawk – 1 (migratory ), Common Buzzard – 9 ind., Booted Eagle – 1 ind., Imperial Eagle – 1 juvenile, Red-footed Falcon – 1 ind., Common Kestrel – 2 pairs and 10 ind.
29 April our way went through the eastern part of Saratov region, across the south of Samara region, and west of Orenburg region. In places we had to move mainly along the field roads, because the other is simply not there.Despite the very low density of human settlements and the presence of significant area of virgin steppe sites, frequency of records of birds of prey was very low. Once, we did not met a single eagle for the whole day. At the 480th km of the route we observed 9 species of Falconiformes, numbering 1.19 ind./ km route: Black Kite – 4 ind. and one pair, Hen Harrier – 1 ind. (migratory), Montagu’s Harrier – 8 ind. and 2 pairs, Marsh Harrier – 5 ind., Rough-legged Buzzard – 3 ind. (migratory), Common Buzzard – 4 ind., Imperial Eagle (1 juvenile), Red-footed Falcon – 2 ind. and 1 pair, Common Kestrel – 2 pairs and 15 ind. Overnight on April 29 was the last before Orenburg. In these places began dominating wooded floodplain habitats along the Ural River and its tributaries. At one location, from the road we noticed a White-tailed Eagle, sitting on a perch not far from the nest. On April 30 we were at the final destination of our trip – in Orenburg, which for some time became a research center for ornithologists from the CIS countries.

In spite of a very busy agenda of the 13th International Ornithological Conference, participants of our trip made several short expeditions in the vicinity of Orenburg. We revealed 3 occupied nests of the White-tailed Eagles in 12 km section of the Ural River floodplain. Also we have found out two occupied nests of the Imperial Eagle in the Ural foothills, one of them was already in the territory of Bashkiria and 1 juvenile of the Imperial Eagle was recorded.

V.P.Belik, M.N.Gavrilyuk

Map: Approximate route of the automobile travel from Luhansk (Ukraine) to Orenburg (Russia)


  1. Dear Dr. M.N Gavrilyuk
    Please,is it possible to buy the book” Material der XIII. Internationalen Ornitnithologen-Konferenz NordEurasiens – Verlag der Orenburger Staatlichen Pädagogischen Universität , 362 pp.
    eds.: EN Kurochkin & AV Davygora.
    I can pay to You by WesternPost, in Dollar or in Euro. Only I need Your adress.
    Please, answer to me. I did not receive any contact with MENBIR ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY. I received no answer.
    With many thanks in anticipation,
    Shak Van Impe

  2. Maxim Gavrilyuk says:

    Dear Shak Van Impe!
    Please write to me
    Dr. Maxim Gavrilyuk

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