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Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 20th, 2009, 12:01 am
by Jo UK
Urmas Sellis introduces Tiit Randla:

Tiit is the best known Eagle Man in Estonia, especially as specialist on white-tailed eagles and golden eagles. In the 1960’ies he and Fred Jüssi carried out work that the Eagle Club now continues – the material circumstances then were somewhat poorer, but nature on the other hand the richer.
Tiit has been director of the Nature Conservation department of the Estonian Ministry of the Environment in the early years of Estonia’s restored independence – this was a time when everything had to be started from the beginning, and it was not always easy.
Tiit is now retired but still works with nature conservation. As in the Soviet period when he went on journeys all over the USSR, he takes every opportunity of travelling even now (lately for instance in connection with organising protection for the waterfowl migrating between Europe and Africa). He is the author of many accounts from his travels, and the book “Eesti röövlinnud” (Estonian Birds of Prey) is also authored by him. Tiit is honorary member of the Estonian Ornithological Society and member of the Eagle Club.

This photograph of Tiit Randla is from


We invite questions from members.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 20th, 2009, 3:03 pm
by Kuremari
First of all, i`d like to say huge thanks for the great job you did at WTE winter feeding ground!
My question though is about Lesser Spotted Eagles, Eha and Koit.
at the beginning of the season Koit - the male eagle was pretty much present, brought food for Eha and helped to repair the nest. Now for some time already he is hardly seen and the female eagle has to leave the nest and eggs to find food.(we think this is the reason she leaves the nest)
- is this normal, that the male LSE does not take care of his partner, like WTE do( Sulev is an excellent partner)
- for how long time can the eggs be alone on the nest, and still be OK
- do birds know if the eggs are not alive anymore and still continue to incubate them ?

I know golden eagles and white-tailed eagles better and have observed their nest life, so I can confirm that their care as parents is really exemplary. At the same time it is difficult to think that it would be very much different with the spotted eagles.

During the warm season eggs can be left alone in the nest for hours; the real danger is rather nest robbers like martens or ravens.

I don’t think that birds feel if the embryo is alive or not in the egg. They go on incubating so-called addled (or “rotten”) eggs too for some time.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 20th, 2009, 11:22 pm
by Jo UK
Greetings, Tiit, and thank you for the chance to ask questions.

Our two webcam sea-eagle adults are exceptionally good parents in their generous provision of food and their constant presence with the young eagles. Is this the usual pattern with these eagles, or are Sulev and Linda more attentive than average?

Do sea eagles, young or adult, suffer parasitic diseases from their food source or from insects in and around the nest?

Do YOU have any theory about the mechanism that causes birds to migrate - when to go, where to go, how to return? I have read many theories, but what do you say? :D (This is asked on the day that young GSE Tõnn returned to Estonia)


I can assure that this exemplary nest behaviour is the rule; differences may depend on the species but also on experience.

I don’t think that birds in general are infected by way of food or insects but there are exceptions – I know for instance of a golden eagle, whose chick caught an infectious fungal disease.

Birds are as ever driven to migrate because of food resources. Being true to a nesting area and the instinct to migrate are ancient traits; very aberrant behaviour or deviating migration paths usually result in the bird’s death

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 21st, 2009, 3:26 am
by kenny
Hello Tiit Randla and thanks from me as well for answering our questions.

I was wondering about the behavior of the eaglets. After seeing this video of the Hornby eaglets, older sibling pecking the younger one (Hope and Echo) and some videos of Sulli bullying Kluti (thankfully a little less) i thought of asking - is it going to change the adult eagle's character or behavior/manner in life if he has been the younger eaglet, and on the receiving end of this pecking and bullying from the sibling. I mean is the eagle going to be kinder, more resilient or braver later i'd say Sulev has been very attentive and gentle with his chicks, never leaving Linda too long without food, staying firmly on guard-duty when LInda was stretching her wings between hatching sessions. Surely a nice eagle now, couldn't have been "THE bully" in his younger days. Then again Koit (LSE) has been a little more careless, leaving his hatching spouse to find food for herself causing her to leave the eggs. I'd say he was the bully when his was young. OR am i implying too much of human psychology to eagles?
:blush: it might (it is :D ) be stupid question since you have no way of knowing, which of the adult eagles you are observing today, have been younger ones in the nest.
Then the question comes down to just about the same as Jo asked, what makes some eagles be so nice and caring and others more free-minded. Both should have the same natural instincts but they act different.

Other, maybe more normal question, how do young eaglets learn how to hunt for the first time. they learn to fly- ok, they learn to hold food down with feet and rip pieces off of it- ok and then they fly next to a shallow water, see a fish and have the right instinct of stretching claws out and diving after it? or do they need to observe how parents do it first and get some words-of wisdom before they do their first catch.
Do eaglets have their skills programmed in from start or do they learn by watching and testing.
Question arouse because I saw some videos of trained eagles hunting wolves in Mongolia, alongside horse-riders, flying on command, taking an animal down and waiting ( pretty much like dogs).all of that is trained not their normal instinct.


Your reasoning may be somewhat biased by human psychology viewpoints.

Adult birds as a rule don’t train their young who have left the nest. Young birds who have become independent are governed by instincts and experiences. If their first attempts at catching a prey fail they may easily perish. The high mortality rate of young birds in their first year of life is critical for the population. The winter feeding of white-tailed eagles in North Europe helped to increase their numbers during the 1980ies-1990ies because the mortality of young birds decreased.

It is somewhat different with trained hunting birds, they have generally been domesticated for generations and their natural instincts have been subdued by persistent training.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 22nd, 2009, 9:24 am
by alice44
I am curious about what is known about eagle's eyesight. I think it seems clear that the eaglets are paying more attention to the world around them, now that they are older. Are their eyes more developed so that they see more or are they learning how to interpret what they see?

Do we know anything about their vocalizations in terms of language? Eha does not seem to make a wide range of sounds and yet when Linda and Sulev meet and work on the nest together (and at odds with each other), they seem to be conveying a wide range of messages.

Are the differences that we are seeing between the White-Tailed Eagle family and the Lesser Spotted Eagles typical? (Since Linda was incubating her eggs back when it was snowing it seems clear she would have to be more present if her eggs were to survive to hatch.)

Since people have begun watching eagles with cams have we learned anything really surprising about how eagles behave?

Thank you for taking time to answer our questions -- and I hope we can repay the favor by helping gather more knowledge on the behaviour of the eagles.

The sharp eyesight develops gradually in nestlings; the attentive observation of the surroundings is transformed into experiences of their environment as a final result.

I think that the differing behaviours depend on the conditions. The white-tailed eagles begin their nesting towards the end of winter when there is still snow, and keeps its eggs more carefully covered. In the incubation period of spotted eagles there is usually no snowfall and thus not so much danger that the clutch of eggs would become cold.

Interpreting the calls of eagles is somewhat speculative; they certainly have warning calls, and calls to mark food delivery. Precisely in this area it is possible, through the web cameras, to find information and make new discoveries about the life of eagles.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 22nd, 2009, 4:28 pm
by kenny
Hello again,
i had another question come to my mind.
->How long is the memory span of Bald Eagle and White Tailed Eagles and how detailed are their memories? eg. they can remember certain routines like flying on command and sitting onto the trainers arm, picking up toys (prey) and bringing them to the trainer. But do eagles remember specific humans (that depends on how detailedly they remember objects ) or after receiving leg-bands, will they remember their encounter with humans and will it affect their attitude towards humans later on, maybe when they are caught again in some other place to check their leg bands.

(i tried google and Yahoo first but since the word "eagle" is associated with Boyscouts, IT equipment and a rock band it's actually quite troublesome if one doesn't know the right ornitology sites)

I believe that in nature the memory span of birds is short. Usually the adult bird returns to the nest almost at once when the disturber has left.

The behaviour of tamed hunting hawks is basically different because they have been carefully trained, often through generations.

So I think that eagles in nature as a rule won’t recognise a particular person.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 25th, 2009, 1:28 pm
by Liis
Hello, Tiit Randla -
First, thank you for the very interesting interview in December!
Roughly how many eagle nests in Estonia are in protected areas (that is, national parks and similar), how many in specially created protection areas (I think this is done sometimes when endangered species are found breeding?), how many on "ordinary" land?

Are the specially created protection areas large enough, in your opinion (a bird or an animal has not only a nest, it needs territory and habitat in the long run)

It may seem unfair to smaller forest owners - and not really good for the protected birds and animals - not to be able to use their property. What can be done and is something being done?

Which eagles are most, and least, sensitive to disturbancies created by humans?

Legally Estonian eagles are well protected; only the pairs whose nests have not been found are outside this protection and that is a minority.

A smaller part of the nests are on private land; there may be conflicts for instance when a white-tailed eagle builds its nest near a summer house. But we have been quite successful in explaining that an eagle is really a source of pride, and with reasonable attitudes the nest will be secure in those cases too.

In Estonia spotted eagles, ospreys and white-tailed eagles live in cultivated areas side by side with people.

The golden eagle, living in bog areas, is much more shy of human interference.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 26th, 2009, 2:22 pm
by Jo UK
You have been involved with eagles over some decades, so can you please give us some insight into the origin and history, and present membership and status of the Eagle Club in Estonia?

Another question, arising from Urmas's introduction of you - please tell us of your travels and objectives concerning the migration of wetland birds. We learned of a shocking event in Saudi Arabia, when many storks and other birds were found dead at the base of electricity pylons. Are you involved with that topic, and if so, is there any progress on the horizon?


Our Eagle Club is a voluntary organisation for scientists and amateur researchers, a partner in co-operative projects with the Government’s environmental establishments, and works with investigations and surveillance of eagles in Estonia.

My involvement with waterfowl has to do with my being the representative of Wetland International in Estonia; this year I took part in the training of Gambian and Senegalese nature guards in western Africa.

The fate of white-tailed eagles in Europe has been analogous to that of the American eagles. In Northern Europe the number of white-tailed eagles has increased by a factor of 10 during the last 30 years thanks to active protection (feeding!) and bird protection information. There are no particular conflicts with humans, the white-tailed eagle is not as shy of humans as the golden eagle is. If facts are explained to landowners, and they get recognition for having a successfully nesting eagle on their land, it is accepted by a majority. In the countries around the Baltic eagles even live successfully near smaller towns, where they find enough prey in natural water bodies. With regard to eagles that visit fish breeding ponds the Government tries to cover the losses, on condition that the owner also makes arrangements to protect his property.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 26th, 2009, 4:35 pm
by asteria
Hello, Tiit,

It was said that as a rule only the strongest chick of Lesser Spotted eagles would survive, and the weakest one is to be killed by his parents or sibling. Is it possible to save both lesser spotted eagle chicks in the nest by removing one of the eggs and placing it in incubator or by providing the parents some additional food?


Yes, it is theoretically possible but in practice very expensive and requires much efforts. It is simpler to protect birds and their habitats in nature better.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 26th, 2009, 5:33 pm
by NancyM
Tere, Tiit, and thank you very much for agreeing to answer our questions.

I live in North America, and have spent more time learning about Bald Eagles than about the European species. I am interested in learning about the similarities and/or differences in the histories of these species on the two continents. Here, the Bald Eagle suffered a great decline in its population because of pollution from the persistent effects of DDT; at one time there was a bounty on eagles because they were thought to raid and kill farmers' livestock; and today, as bald eagle populations rebound in many States, habitat loss due to development is possibly going to be a limiting factor in how many individuals and nests can be supported. There are laws to protect the bald eagle but of course these laws are sometimes broken. Are there any parallels with the fate of eagles in Estonia? What have been the pressures in the past on Estonia's eagle populations? What is of most concern for the future?

Is one species (lesser spotted, greater spotted, golden, white-tailed) more or less successful than the others in the present day? If so, do you have any idea why?

Do their territories overlap with other eagle species, or are they each in their own area?

Do any of these species co-exist to any degree with humans? (Some bald eagles are considered to be urban eagles, with nests in trees along highways, and some in Vancouver, Canada, visit garbage dumps to scavenge for food.)

Finally, on a completely different note, would you tell us an anecdote from your own history- perhaps your most interesting observation or experience during your career (just how close did you get to an eagle? a challenge from the early days, or your most satisfying accomplishment) Are any of your publications in English? (Sadly, I cannot read Estonian.)

Thank you again for your time and sharing your knowledge.


It is true that there are many similarities in the fates of European and American eagles. At present the come-back of the white-tailed eagle in Northern Europe is seen as one of the best positive examples of practical bird protection. Regrettably the fate of the golden eagle and the greater spotted eagle has not been as positive in Estonia, and the osprey, quite common further north, is also comparatively rare here because there are few water bodies with abundant fish. Eagles are more influenced indirectly by human activities, not so much by direct hate: suitable habitats have become more scarce, also their prey; birds perish in traffic and on electricity lines etc.

The territories of eagles usually don’t overlap, even in little Estonia they still have enough living space.

Watching the eagles through web cameras has raised the interest of people in general and bringing out the ideas of bird protection in this way is positive in every way. For me too some of the best experiences of later years have been in connection with the feeding of eagles.

I don’t have any recent publications in English, but there are some from the 1990’s, for instance reviews of our golden and white-tailed eagles in the book Eagle Studies (1996; editors Meyburg and Chancellori, WWWGP, Berlin,London, Paris; ISBN 3-9801961-1-9) .

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 26th, 2009, 10:19 pm
by leonia
Hallo Tiit Randla,
at first I want to thank you for all your efforts for the eagles and too for let us look at them via webcam and learn a lot about them.
I would like to ask you about the things that happened on the latvian nest of Grieta and Gints. Do you know about the lost two eggs that were eaten by Grieta after beeing picked by accident or attack from other birds? Does something like this happen often or is it new even to people like you?
Thanks in advance!


I can only add this much: cannibalism and the eating of eggs occur sometimes among birds, but this is usually an exception and points to some unusual circumstances like shortage of food.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: May 30th, 2009, 7:54 am
by juta
you spent a winter on Wrangell Island observing white bears. But maybe some words about most interesting or rare birds who are nesting there?


Regrettably the answer is that in winter no birds live so far north. But in summer I have been told that it is a paradise for snow geese.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: June 15th, 2009, 9:37 pm
by yarko
Tiit – would you please comment with a few words the Cainism-situation in Lesser spotted Eagles nest that we observe – thanks!


In a spotted eagle nest as a rule only one young bird is brought up. This is the nesting strategy of this species and it has been justified over time: better one strong and vigorous descendant than two weaklings. Biologically this is very logical although unnatural from the human emotional point of view.

Re: Interview With Tiit Randla

Posted: June 15th, 2009, 11:20 pm
by juta
Thank you to Tiit Randla for interesting answers!

Thank you to Kaija Eistrat for the translation!

Thank you to Yarko for organizing this interview!