Crowned Eagle researcher Shane McPherson and Mia Jessen, a bird of prey veterinary nurse, collect data from the oldest of the Crowned Eagle nestlings of the 2012 breeding season. Picture: Steve Camp

Durban - At least 10 pairs of rare Crowned Eagles have set up residence in Durban’s western suburbs – nesting in “green” corridors that were created as part of urban planning in the 1970s.

Raptor expert and University of KwaZulu-Natal MSc student Shane McPherson, who is researching why the birds are thriving in the urban open spaces around the city, said the Durban Metropolitan Open Space System (D’Moss) had created a habitat for birds, insects and small mammals. This had enabled breeding raptors to thrive in the area.

According to eThekwini Municipality’s website D’Moss is a system of open spaces, about 74 000 hectares of land and water, that incorporates areas of high biodiversity value linked together in a network.

Richard Boon, eThekwini Municipality’s manager of diversity planning, said he could not comment on the research but “on face value McPherson’s findings seemed correct”.

McPherson, who arrived in Durban from New Zealand in April to start his research, said there were at least 20 nests in the eThekwini metropolitan area mainly between Pinetown and Hillcrest.

“Only half appear to be active in any one year. A nest near Mariannhill was one of the earliest for the 2012 season and has successfully fledged an eaglet.”

In the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve, another eaglet was expected to take its maiden flight “sometime in December”. Five nests are being monitored this year using surveillance cameras which take images every minute over four to eight months. Next year another five nests will have cameras installed.

Persecution by people, electrocution, fences, poisoning and starvation are just some of the hazards the youngsters may face on their journey, but McPherson said he was impressed by how residents knew where the nests were and were passionate protectors of the sites.

Crowned Eagles are listed as threatened on the Red Data List and populations across Africa are in decline as their natural forest habitat diminishes.

McPherson hoped his research would encourage other African cities to make city planning decisions to improve biodiversity in urban areas.

Professor Colleen Downs, McPherson’s research supervisor at UKZN, said the study was intended to investigate how Durban’s “human-dominated landscapes were sustaining one of the most powerful raptors in Africa at a relatively high density”. - The Mercury.

* Anyone who would like to assist and has sighted the birds can e-mail [email protected]