Black-and-chestnut Eagles

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While I was working on my latest video about an organic farm in Ecuador, my thoughts drifted back to an incredible bird I filmed while living in that country. I went onto YouTube to see how many people had viewed the remarkable video from that experience and was horrified to discover that I had never published it! Because of the dire conservation status of this bird, as well its sheer beauty, I made it a priority to share this story and rare footage. (Trust me, you want to watch this one).

During my time in Ecuador in 2012, I stayed for a few weeks at a farm high in the cloud forest in order to film wildlife for a documentary I was supporting. One day, the farm’s co-owner told me that a neighbor had found an active Black-and-chestnut Eagle nest and had offered to take us to see it. My jaw dropped. Black-and-chestnut Eagles are one of those mythical animals that you salivate while reading about, but never, ever, expect to actually see. These birds are as mysterious and magnificent as the cloud forests they inhabit. But even if you manage to penetrate this remote and rugged habitat, you’re extremely unlikely to find one.

Tropical montane cloud forest, home of the Black-and-Chestnut Eagle.

Tropical montane cloud forest, home of the Black-and-Chestnut Eagle.

Top predators like these are naturally scarce, but the Black-and-chestnut Eagle is also endangered. Across the Andes the cloud forests that it depends on are being destroyed for agriculture, logging, and mining. Additionally, the eagles have a habit of hunting farmers’ chickens, causing the farmers to shoot them. Very little is known about these secretive birds, but scientists estimate that there are only up to 200 adults in Ecuador and 250-1,500 in the WORLD. So when I was told that I could have an eye-level view of this bird and one of its young I was overjoyed.

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In Ecuador,  cloud forests are destroyed for sugarcane (light green) and cattle pasture (darker green).

On a damp, cloudy morning, the neighbor led us up a muddy, nearly vertical slope into the dense forest. We arrived at a small clearing and, to my amazement, about 60 feet away and slightly below eye level was a massive nest with a white, fluffy Black-and-chestnut Eagle chick. I spent the majority of the day sitting there with my camera,  nourishing an endless cloud of mosquitoes, and waiting for the parents to feed their chick. When at last they did, I saw the most spectacular bird and I had ever seen:

This video is special to me for two reasons: 1. It is rare. Photos of adult Black-and-chestnut Eagles are very uncommon. High-quality videos are almost nonexistent. 2. It has the potential to give local farmers a different view of this species.

Farmers in the Andes have a legitimate reason to be concerned about their chickens, which, as I experienced firsthand, are their primary source of protein. But unfortunately this dominates their perception of the eagles. Farmers see them only as winged demons, not as beautiful and caring parents trying to persist in a shrinking forest. A year after filming this chick I was deeply saddened when I received an email telling me that it had been shot by a local farmer shortly after leaving the nest.

Black-and-chestnut Eagle chick, In memoriam

Black-and-chestnut Eagle chick, In memoriam.

The people who showed me this nest provide environmental education programs for children in the local schools. I’ve shared this video with them in the hope that it will help people consider a different perspective of this incredible species. Maybe then the birds in this video will inspire not only bird-lovers, but the people who will determine their future.

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2 thoughts on “Black-and-chestnut Eagles

  1. Thank you so much for climbing that muddy hill and feeding all those mosquitoes so I can sit here in the comfort of my home and see one of the most extraordinary sights on the planet. What a beautiful creature.

    Like

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