Iberian Imperial Eagle population recovers

The Iberian Imperial Eagle working group, made up of representatives of the environmental administrations of Spain and Portugal and with the advice of experts and specialised entities, has presented the results of monitoring and conservation work carried out in favour of one of the species emblematic of the Spanish fauna, and the only raptor endemic to the Iberian Peninsula.

Between 2021 and 2022, a minimum of 841 pairs of Iberian imperial eagles were registered, 821 in Spain and an estimated 20 in Portugal. These data represent a 53% increase in the population since 2017, the previous year in which a coordinated census was compiled at the Iberian level and which then offered 536 pairs.

The species continues to be distributed throughout five Spanish autonomous communities, although the number of provinces with the presence of territories has increased in this latest coordinated census. As of 2018, Granada, Cuenca, and Palencia already harbour breeding pairs of the species. Castilla-La Mancha is the autonomous community with the largest number of breeding pairs; In 2022, 396 Iberian imperial eagle territories were recorded, which represents 47% of the total existing in Spain. The large areas of this region that have very favourable habitats for the species, associated mainly with the Tagus valley, around Sierra Morena and the Campo de Montiel region, have allowed a significant increase in pairs and, at the same time, in the number of dispersing specimens settled in Castilian-La Mancha territory.

Also, in Andalusia there has been a very significant increase in pairs, from the 70 registered in 2011 to the 136 in 2022, with a notable expansion of the settlement area of ​​the species that has reached in recent years the Subbéticas mountain ranges and the province of Grenade. Castilla y León has 131 pairs in a clear expansive trend, mainly towards the north of the region. The Community of Madrid is also home to a high density of imperial eagles, reaching 83 pairs in 2022 (in 2008 there were 30). In Extremadura, the population of imperial eagles is also increasing, although at a slower rate, welcoming a total of 75 pairs in 2022. For its part, Portugal reports a minimum of 17 pairs in its territory, estimating the possible presence of 20.


The breeding population of the Iberian Imperial Eagle has shown an upward trend since the monitoring and conservation work began, after the protection of the species and its inclusion in the Spanish Catalogue of Threatened Species. The first national census of the species, carried out in 1974 by Jesús Garzón, counted only 39 pairs. Fourteen years after that first census, there were already more than one hundred couples (104) and the population continued to grow, at an average rate of 6% per year to reach 841 in 2022. In 2023, a new complete census is expected to be updated, to confirm the growing trend of the species.

The work carried out by public administrations, private farm owners, conservation entities and researchers has contributed to recovering one of the most representative species of Iberian fauna. In the 1990s, the financial contribution of the LIFE program of the European Union was also an important boost to improve knowledge of this species and the threats it faces, as well as to develop a coordinated program of actions in Spain.

The work to adapt the technical characteristics of the supports of dangerous power lines has been essential to improve the survival of the species, since electrocution in these structures has been – and continues to be – the main unnatural mortality factor for the imperial eagle. Since the approval of Royal Decree 1432/2008, which establishes measures for the protection of birds against collisions and electrocution on high-voltage power lines, public administrations have invested at least 30 million euro in the period 2008- 2020, which will be complemented by another 60 million for the period 2021-2026 from the Next-Generation funds of the European Union.

Another important factor in unnatural mortality has been poisoning with toxic baits illegally placed in the wild. Between 1992 and 2017, 195 dead specimens were detected for this cause. The approval of action plans at the regional level and the investment in methods of prevention and persecution of the illegal use of poisoned baits have enabled this threat to be reduced proportionally in recent years. However, there are other threats that continue to affect the species: among them, direct persecution with illegal methods (shots, for example), poisoning by ingestion of prey with high levels of heavy metals (mainly lead) and the development of infrastructures that may adversely affect this recovery.

Therefore, despite these positive results and the successful example of the conservation work carried out with the Iberian imperial eagle, which has made it possible to significantly reduce its risk of extinction, it is still necessary to continue monitoring and research efforts, in order to investment in power lines, protection of critical areas against habitat transformations due to the implementation of energy developments and reconciliation of practices developed in rural areas. As it is an endemic species, Spain and Portugal have the highest responsibility at a global level to ensure the conservation of this species considered a priority in the set of international standards and conventions on biodiversity conservation.