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Dispersal ecology of Alpine Golden Eagles

Juvenile movement behaviour in a saturated population

Juvenile birds fledging into saturated populations are exposed to high competition from conspecifics. However, little is known about how this competition affects range use and behaviours during natal dispersal, the period from fledging to the establishment of an own territory. The Golden Eagle is a characteristic species of Alpine habitats, and the Swiss population is close to saturated. In collaboration with the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Radolfzell and the Konrad Lorenz Research Center of the University of Vienna, the Swiss Ornithological Institute investigates how young Golden Eagles navigate the Alpine landscape, densely occupied by territorial eagles.

Domain Research
Unit Ecological research
Topic Distribution Ecology, Ecology
Habitat alpine habitats, forest, meadows and pastures, rocky terrain, semi-open farmland
Project start 2017
Project status ongoing
Project management Martin Grüebler
Project region Grisons, Europe


Project objectives

We aim at investigating the factors shaping the ontogeny of movement behaviours in a dense population of Golden Eagles. Variation in the development of flight in the post-fledging dependency period can have consequences for later movement processes. A main focus will be on juvenile movement behaviour in space and time after departure from parental territories. In this period, the dense territories of conspecific breeding birds might affect natal dispersal movements, in addition to the distribution of important resources such as food and the energy landscape.


In collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour and the Konrad Lorenz Research Centre of the University of Vienna we tagged 35 juvenile Golden Eagles in Switzerland and 50 juveniles in Germany, Italy, and Austria. The solar-powered loggers transmit GPS positions and acceleration data, which provide information on the movements and behaviours of the juvenile eagles. In addition, behavioural observations and point counts serve to identify conspecific territories, quantify their effects on juvenile movements, and validate tracking data.


Golden Eagles depend on Alpine habitats, and therefore, Switzerland has a special responsibility for the species’ conservation in Europe. Despite the close to saturated population, the Golden Eagle remains a species of high national priority, and its population is classified as vulnerable in the Swiss Red List. Investigating the processes involved in the recruitment of this Alpine indicator species into a changing Alpine landscape goes beyond the species’ ecology itself and provides important insights into density-dependence of natal dispersal in long-lived species.

Project partner(s)

Financial support

  • Stiftung Yvonne Jacob



Species concerned

Bird species
Golden Eagle
The “King of the Skies” reaches a wingspan of up to 2.2 metres. The Golden Eagle is the only large predator in Switzerland to have survived the days of ruthless persecution during which the Bearded Vulture, the lynx, the wolf and the brown bear were exterminated. Meanwhile, the population of the ...
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Other resources
Jungen Steinadlern auf der Spur (in German)
Jungadler im Fokus der Wissenschaft (in German)
Media release
Biologen sind den jungen Steinadler im Alpenraum auf der Spur (in German)
Media release
Jungadler im Fokus der Wissenschaft (in German)
Der Steinadler (in German)
Wandern mit dem Steinadler (in German)
Ecological research link

Ecological research

We investigate the diverse interactions of birds with their environment, from individual settlement behaviour to species communities.

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