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Stage 6: Vesoul > Troyes

A hotel and restaurant for Europe’s biggest birds

The stage on 6 July 2017 crosses three Natura 2000 sites: the lakes of the Forêt d’Orient (FR2110001), Forêt d’Orient (FR2100305) and the Forests and Clearings of Bas Bois (FR2100309), which are all included within the Forêt d’Orient Regional Natural Park and the Champagne wetland ponds, protected by the 1991 Ramsar Convention.

A migratory stop for many species

The large lakes of the Forêt d’Orient Regional Natural Park extend over 5,000 hectares and offer migratory birds a safe haven on their long return journeys between their wintering and summering sites. The lakes, meadows and ponds that make up this site provide shelter and cover. These spaces also accommodate some of the birds during the breeding season. Throughout the year, 267 bird species were observed by local ornithologists at these sites, 132 of which were in migration.

Fish eagles...

Among the many species that benefit from the hospitality of the great lakes of Champagne, white-tailed Eagles and ospreys are the most spectacular fish eagles.

> The Osprey is the only bird of prey in Europe that fishes exclusively. It weighs an average of 1.5 kilos and its wingspan can reach 180 cm. Its diet is almost exclusively composed of fish, that it fishes in fresh water or the sea. It is one of the rare diurnal birds of prey to have reversible outer talons like owls and horned owls, which means that it can grab its prey with two front talons and two rear talons (cross-shaped) and easily keep its grip on slippery fish.

This bird of prey can be recognised by the pronounced contrast between its white chest and its dark brown back, as well as the black headband. From the front, due to its bent wings, it can be confused with a gull.

The Osprey is highly migratory. In the autumn, the population of Northern Europe leaves to spend the winter in Africa, between Senegal and Ethiopia. At the return of spring, in March, the Ospreys leave for the north of Europe. The partners of couples then meet after having spent the winter solo.

  • Click here for a map of the migratory path of a tagged osprey.

The Osprey performs a strange dance during courtship. It rises in the air several times, with a fish between its talons, up to about 300 meters in height. Then, he screeches while alternately hovering and flying in an undulating manner.

Their nest is built at a great height, on cliffs, in trees or even on electric pylons. The osprey needs a solid support to bear the weight of its impressive nest, which measures 1 m in diameter on average. The bird chooses a spot high enough to have a wide view of the surroundings. Once the nest is established, the osprey stays faithful and returns to it every year.

> The white-tailed eagle is a diurnal bird of prey. It is one of the largest European birds of prey: its wingspan can measure up to 250 cm. Its body and wings are brown, and the adult is recognisable by its tail, which is entirely white.

The white-tailed eagle is a generalist and opportunistic bird of prey. It feeds mainly on fish, dead or alive, which it fishes from the surface without diving, unlike the Osprey. Its diet is largely complemented by water birds (such as ducks and coots). It also hunts small mammals (rodents or rabbits) but, as a scavenger, it can feed on larger mammals.

The white-tailed eagle is partially migratory. Some birds are sedentary while others tend to winter further south. In France, these birds are migratory, rare winter visitors and very rarely breed (only one couple known in France, in Lorraine to be more precise). During the over-wintering period, it is most often seen in pond areas, especially those of the great lakes of Champagne.

The white-tailed eagle is faithful to its territory, where it returns every spring (those which are migratory). Its courtship display is danced in couples: the two partners fly one after the other at a height of 200 meters. The male tries to dominate the female, who tilts on her back and shows her talons. The white-tailed eagle mainly builds its nest on cliffs in coastal areas, or in large trees, in a fork or against the trunk. This nest is immense, like that of the Osprey: it is 1 m high and has a diameter of 1 m. The oldest nests can reach 3.7 m high and weigh nearly 1 tonne. They are reused from year to year and even from generation to generation. A nest used for 150 years has even been found in Iceland!

... very fragile species!

Previously widespread, osprey and white-tailed eagle populations decreased significantly during the nineteenth century (general hunting and poisoning of all birds of prey, use of toxic agents), which led to their disappearance in several countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.

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These species are now protected and are the subject of numerous conservation programmes in several European countries. 

These efforts allow us to once again gaze upon these magnificent birds, which are still rare: populations are currently increasing slowly and slightly in Europe and France, but they still remain very vulnerable.

Recommendations

If you stumble upon an fish eagle's nest when walking, respect any nestlings present and move away immediately. Indeed, eggs can not withstand heat loss due to the absence of their parents and the nestlings need to be fed regularly and protected from predators.

When an adult encounters you on the way back to the nest, it will lag behind. If it flew away when you approached, it will not come back. It thinks that you are too close for it to be safe and its survival instinct will force it to sacrifice its nest.

In order to guarantee the necessary tranquillity for these small families of air giants, forest managers set up perimeters where they do not go during nesting periods, which can be up to several hundred meters around the nests they are aware of.