Seen from the outside, the breeding located in Saint-Denis-du-Payré is just an ordinary house. You have to cross the living room and push the door to the garden to discover the imposing sheet metal building that houses the birds of prey.
Divided into ten aviaries of eighteen meters by six, it accommodates five couples too old to learn to live in freedom and five young people awaiting transfer.
Since 2011, Christian Pacteau, owner of the house and responsible for breeding, has sent 77 eaglets to repopulate the Mediterranean basin.
“The number of Bonelli’s eagles has dropped drastically since the 1980s, in particular because of electrocutions on high voltage lines”, explains the breeder. “At the time, there were 80 pairs in France. At the beginning of the 2000s, more than 20. Thanks to the reintroduction, there are now around forty.”
At 72, this retired school teacher, “fallen into the pot of ornithology at a very young age”, runs the only French breeding of Bonelli eagles, created on the initiative of the French Union of Rescue Centers of wild fauna (UFCS) and financed by a European program for the protection of biodiversity as well as by the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO).
The associations in the south of France not having shown interest, the Vendée breeding had turned to Spanish and Italian organisations, which today release the eaglets in the region of Madrid, Alava, Majorca and in Sardinia.
White belly, dark wings and hooked beak, Cabestany, Eus and Llupia, three eaglets born in March, wait for the hour of departure, perched in their aviary.
The journey was delayed for several weeks by the bird flu epizootic, which prevents any transport of birds.
“It’s annoying because the later the raptors are reintroduced, the longer they take to get used to their new environment,” worries Emmanuelle Portier, one of the two keepers.
In the neighboring aviary, the two other chicks that will be on the trip are still covered in white down, lying on a wooden table covered with bark.
In mid-July, the trainers will install the eaglets in the back of a van which will take the road to Spain. Before being released, the birds of prey will be equipped with a GPS.
“This makes it possible to follow their journeys, to document their rhythm of life. And to help them if they seem to be in difficulty”, specifies Philippe Pilard, project manager at the LPO.
The ornithologist still remembers an eagle which, reintroduced in Italy a few years ago, had finally chosen to take up residence in Corsica.
As soon as they are laid, the breeders take the eggs from the aviaries to allow a second reproduction and install them in an incubator heated to 37.2°C.
They then feed the chicks by hand, taking care to hide behind a curtain, so that the meals are not associated with a human face.
If the reintroduction program has been a “great success”, Christian Pacteau is now worried about seeing “the end of the story” approaching.
Of his five pairs of eagles aged 18 to 32, three are no longer of breeding age and the other two are at the limit.
“I tried to bring together the male and the female who are still able but they don’t want to. Once paired, these birds never change companions again”, sighs the breeder.
His Spanish partners could send him an eagle but there is no guarantee that the female will accept it. As for asking them for a couple already formed, “we must not dream”.
In the meantime, breeders will follow the fledging from a distance. The Spanish caregivers never forget to send them photos and health reports of the “babies”.