x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bald eagle flees in unfriendly climate

The owners of a missing eagle fear that his transmitter may be broken, making it impossible to track him down.

Jon, the eight-year-old eagle, who went missing from a Dubai bird show.
Jon, the eight-year-old eagle, who went missing from a Dubai bird show.

DUBAI // Missing: one bald eagle; likes fish; answers to the name of Jon. The eight-year-old Jon was one of 24 birds in a show in Dubai on Saturday morning when he flew away after being scared by a crow. Jon's owners fear that his transmitter may be broken, making it impossible to track him down. The eagle, which is accustomed to cold weather, might not survive long in the summer heat.

The eagle was born at Berlin Zoo and raised by the falconers Sandra Stuckenbruck and Zoltan Loerentei, a married couple from Germany. He was forced to flee by what Ms Stuckenbruck described as an "aggressive black crow or raven" midway through Saturday morning's Birds of Prey show. "It was the first time our bald eagle flew that high up into the sky, maybe 500 metres high; perhaps it was because the weather was so nice and sunny, with the light breeze," Ms Stuckenbruck said.

"It was very nice to see and everyone watching the show was delighted, but then a black raven or a crow started pushing the eagle from the area mid-flight. "Maybe the area is where the wild crow is breeding, because even though the eagle is much bigger, the crow is still much more aggressive, and kept pushing at the eagle until they both flew away together in the direction of Al Ain." A tracking device transmitting location, speed and height is usually attached to all the birds of prey used in Ms Stuckenbruck and Mr Loerentei's show. However, in Jon's case the device seems to have malfunctioned.

"We cannot get a signal from the transmitter," Ms Stuckenbruck said. "If he has a good upper wind, he can fly very far, very quickly, because he soars like an aeroplane. He can quickly change direction so we can't be 100 per cent sure where he has reached now exactly. That is really a problem, because we don't have a single signal, nothing really. It's just so sad." Ms Stuckenbruck believes that Jon's tracking device may not have been closed properly and could have been damaged by water.

That species of eagle is attracted to aquatic habitats for bathing, drinking and hunting. "Bald eagles are from the northern, colder climates, from regions like Alaska, and they usually don't like the heat," Ms Stuckenbruck said. "Jon also doesn't like the heat; he likes water, which cools him down. Also, he hunts the types of fish that swim to the surface to sunbathe themselves; he just swoops down and catches them. We are hoping he will be near water."

Jon has flown away from his owners before, disappearing for four weeks after a show last year in Germany, but the climate and habitat there is ideal for bald eagles. "Last year, Jon flew from the south of Germany up to the coast in the north, around 900km," said Ms Stuckenbruck. "It is no problem for him to fly far and for long distances, and we found him eventually from his transmitter." Although he is not a danger to the public and would not attack a human, the eagle will probably approach ponds and other bodies of water in search of food and to cool himself down.

"Families have big farms here and often they have big ponds, so the eagle might try to eat fish from these ponds or bathe," Ms Stuckenbruck said. "We are so afraid that the staff on these farms will be scared by such a big bird ? he is not a common sight, he is very huge, with a wingspan of two metres ? and they might beat him to death or shoot him." The couple have been raising awareness about their loss and hope to receive information about Jon's whereabouts in the near future. They expect he has reached Abu Dhabi or Al Ain by now.

"We hope people will call us if they see him." Ms. Stuckenbruck said. "We will have to go and try to catch him ourselves by taking some food out, and calling out to him. But he has to know the person well, so it has to be me or my husband, who have trained him, who are the ones to try and get him back." "He is really a very nice bird, and he has really been doing such a good job in our show." The Birds of Prey show performs twice daily at 11am and 4pm at No 77 Lahhab Road in Dubai. The show opened in January and will continue until the end of March.

Anyone who catches a glimpse of the bald eagle Jon can call Sandra Stuckenbruck at 050 289 1863. hkhalaf@thenational.ae