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Its name seems to recall that of the Norman Bonello family involved in twelfth century intrigues at Sicily's royal court, but in fact comes from that of Franco Andrea Bonelli (1784-1830), the northern Italian naturalist who established one of Piedmont's first zoos. Though not a falcon, Bonelli's Eagle was used in falconry, a fact the medieval Bonellos would have appreciated. The "aquila del Bonelli" (scientifically hieraaetus fasciatus) is a graceful bird of prey. To Germans, he's the "hawking eagle" (habichtsadler).
Bonelli's Eagle is generally brown, with a white or light tan speckled breast. Mature adults are about 70 centimetres tall, with a wingspan of around 170 centimetres. In an admirable gesture of fidelity, eagles choose only one mate, and a pair builds a large nest annually even if a prior one exists in tact. The birds feed on mammals, rodents, reptiles and birds, in Sicily favoring hares, rabbits, squirrels, partridges gulls and lizards. They sometimes catch winged prey in flight. Contrary to popular belief, Bonelli's Eagle does not usually attack newborn lambs, though chickens are not exempt from attack. In Sicily, poisons used to kill wolves, foxes and bats have killed many birds of prey. Foxes, like eagles, are now protected legally.
A few pairs of eagles live in the Nebrodi, Madonie and Peloritan mountains ranging from north-central to northeast Sicily. However, there have been sightings in other parts of Sicily. The birds are not migratory, but are found from Spain across southern Italy into Greece and north Africa toward Saudi Arabia, southern Asia, India and China. They prefer rocky mountains with bush and scrub, and lightly wooded areas. Loss of habitat has decimated the population, which in Europe (where there are fewer than one thousand pairs) lives predominantly in Spain.
The breeding season varies depending on climate. In Sicily, Bonelli's Eagle breeds in early Spring. In most eyries, two eggs are hatched and one eaglet survives. Soaring over hills and pastures, Bonelli's Eagle is the epitome of grace in flight. Though rare anyplace in Italy, this dignified bird still finds its home in Sicily but also in Sardinia and southern peninsular regions like Calabria and Basilicata.
About the Author: Vincenzo Mormino has written about wildlife and nature for Best of Sicily and hard-copy publications.