Two kayakers save a pair of rare eagles from drowning in Danube river

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A Hungarian couple came across two rare white-tailed eagles, at risk of drowning, while taking part in a challenge to raise awareness of Danube river pollution. The birds were clasped together, likely after a fight.

Klaudia Kis and Richard Varga took it upon themselves to rescue the pair before continuing on their journey, travelling from the Black Sea near Romania to the Black Forest in Germany.

It’s a journey that will take them three months, which is also how long they knew each other for before embarking on this project.

The white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) is a very large species of sea eagle widely distributed across temperate Eurasia. Like all eagles, it is a member of the family Accipitridae (or accipitrids) which includes other diurnal raptors such as hawks, kites, and harriers. One of up to eleven members in the genus Haliaeetus, which are commonly called sea eagles, it is also referred to as the white-tailed sea-eagle. Sometimes, it is known as the ern or erne (depending on spelling by sources), gray sea eagle and Eurasian sea eagle.

White-tailed eagles spend much of their day perched on trees or crags, and may often not move for hours. Perhaps up to 90% of a day may be spent perched, especially if weather is poor. Also, they will alternate periods of soaring with perching, especially flying over water or well-watered areas, but do considerably less soaring on average than do golden eagles. Pairs regularly roost together, often near to their nest, either on a crag or tree or crevices, overhung ledges or small isolated trees on a crag

White-tailed eagles eat a variety of prey. As their other common name, sea eagle, suggests, they take fish, but also birds, mammals and carrion. They are opportunistic hunters and often steal food from other birds. Their method of fishing is very different to that of the osprey; flying low over the water before briefly hovering and snatching the fish, whereas ospreys will hover from a great height and then drop quickly down to the water. White-tailed eagles will also sometimes plunge right into the water.

White-tailed eagles are classified by the IUCN as ‘Least Concern’. The species suffered huge declines in Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries and was driven to extinction in the UK, mainly through persecution. It has since been reintroduced to the west coast of Scotland and more recently to the east coast, and a reintroduction programme is currently underway in Ireland.

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