Sea eagle health monitoring

The largest eagle in Europe reacts sensitively to environmental pollution and is therefore monitored in its health and population development.

Project details
Duration: long-term project
Third-party funded: partially
Involved Department(s): Dept Wildlife Diseases, Dept Evolutionary Genetics, Dept Reproduction Biology
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Oliver Krone (Dept Wildlife Diseases)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team:

Claudia Szentiks, Kristin Mühldorfer (all: Dept Wildlife Diseases), Jörns Fickel (Dept Evolutionary Genetics), Jella Wauters (Dept Reproduction Biology)

Consortium Partner(s):


Current Funding Organisation: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
Research Foci:
Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
Understanding wildlife health and disturbed homeostasis
Understanding the environmental context
Improving population viability

As an indicator species, the white-tailed sea eagle reflects the state and way of dealing with nature such as hardly any other animal. Nearly extinct, the European white-tailed sea eagle populations are recovering thanks to intensive protection measures. The white-tailed sea eagle is a so-called "umbrella species" under whose umbrella a multitude of other animal and plant species benefit from the eagle's habitat protection. Because everybody knows him and he is very charismatic, his protection finds a broad acceptance among the population. In Germany it is a “flagship-species” for the protection of species and nature.

Nevertheless, there is a considerable potential for danger, as it is a top predator at the end of the food chain and is particularly susceptible to environmental toxins. Our investigations have shown that lead poisoning is responsible for a third of all dead sea eagles found, but in some protected areas it accounts for up to 50 %. Recent studies have shown that an additional 30 % of all sea eagles examined have significant concentrations of lead in their bones, proving that lead poisoning is a significant problem. Continuous research, knowledge transfer and education of politicians, decision makers and stakeholders are necessary to solve the problem of the use of leaded hunting ammunition in the foreseeable future. Other environmental toxins from agriculture, households, human and veterinary medicine have already been detected in eagle chicks, the health effects of which are still completely unknown. Infectious diseases such as the Avian Influenza Virus also affect the health of the population. The white-tailed sea eagle experiences wild animal/human conflicts when it comes to the construction of new wind power plants, the increasing tourism at the Baltic Sea and in the Mecklenburg Lake District, and it is stylised as a predator to compete for food by certain interest groups.

In the sea eagle health monitoring, the dead found sea eagles are examined for their causes of death, lead levels are determined and poisoning and accident sites are recorded. In addition, population trends are observed, mortality rates are determined and stress levels are assessed. This is done using state-of-the-art laboratory methods but also in the field with the aid of non-invasive sampling and the use of drones.

Selected Publications

Krone O, Bailey LD,  Jähnig S, Lauth T, Dehnhard M (2019) Monitoring corticoid metabolites in urine of white-tailed sea eagles: Negative effects of road proximity on breeding pairs. Gen Comp Endocr, 283

Heuck C, Herrmann C, Levers C, Leitão PJ, Krone O, Brandl R, Albrecht J (2019) Wind turbines in high quality habitat cause disproportionate increases in collision mortality of the white-tailed eagle. Biol Conservation, 236: 44-51.

Trinogga A, Courtiol A, Krone O (2019) Fragmentation of lead-free and lead-based hunting rifle bullets under real life normal German hunting conditions. AMBIO, 48: 1056–1064. DOI: 10.1007/s13280-019-01168-z

Movalli P, Krone O, Osborn D, Pain D (2018) Monitoring contaminants, emerging diseases and environmental change with raptors and links to human health. Bird Study.

Krone O, Globig A, UlrichR, HarderT, Schinköthe J, Herrmann C, Gerst S, Conraths FJ, Beer M (2018) White-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) die-off due to infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, subtype H5N8, in Germany. VIRUSES 10(9), 478;

Krone O, Treu G (2018) Movement Patterns of White-tailed Sea Eagles near Wind Turbines. JWM 82(7): 1367-1375; DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21488

Nadjafzadeh M, Hofer H, Krone O (2016) Sit-and-wait for large prey: foraging strategy and prey choice of White-tailed Eagles. Journal of Ornithology, 157:165–178. doi:10.1007/s10336-015-1264-8.

Nadjafzadeh M, Voigt C, Krone O (2016) Spatial, seasonal and individual variation in the diet of White-tailed Eagles Haliaeetus albicilla assessed using stable isotope ratios. Ibis, 158, 1–15. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12311

Nadjafzadeh M, Hofer H, Krone O (2015) Lead exposure and food processing in white-tailed eagles and other scavengers: an experimental approach to simulate lead uptake at shot mammalian carcasses. European Journal of Wildlife Research. 61 (5): 763-774. DOI: 10.1007/s10344-015-0953-1

Van den Brand JMA, Krone O, Wolf PU, van de Bildt MWG, van AmerongenG, Osterhaus ADME, Kuiken T (2015) Host-specific exposure and fatal neurologic disease in wild raptors from highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 during the 2006 outbreak in Germany. Veterinary Research 46: 24. DOI:10.1186/s13567-015-0148-5