5 June 2020

Eagle People Profiles - Gabriela Peniche


by Rick T.

5 June 2020

This week's Eagle People Profile features Gabriela Peniche, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh. One of her many roles is to assess the health of wild raptors, including Golden Eagles, throughout Scotland.

'For me, golden eagles represent a land with potential, a healthy environment with vast amount of resources, and the indication that big things can happen.'

When did you first become interested in Birds of Prey?

A dream of mine was to live in Australia, and after I finished university in Puebla, Mexico, I decided to venture Down Under. I think this is when I first started learning more in depth about birds of prey. I lived in Australia for three and a half years and whilst studying veterinary nursing, in my spare time I helped with a survey of birds of prey around the Australian Capital Territory. I found fascinating the differences and similarities in sizes, diets and behaviours that all the birds of prey had.

I had a chance to follow owls at night that were wearing radio trackers to find out who where they pairing with and where were they nesting. When the chicks of the various birds of prey were born, I helped mark and weight chicks of species like black kites, hobbies, peregrine falcons, boobook owls and wedge tailed eagles. Years later, I was involved in the reintroduction work for red kites in England and later in Scotland when I had the chance to use the health of predators, in this case birds of prey, to tell me something about the health of the environment, this general interest for the group rearise.

What is your role with the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project?

I am a researcher at the University of Edinburgh working on understanding ecosystem health. In this role my work contributes information on the health of wild populations which can be used by projects such as the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project. Amongst other birds of prey health, I study the health of golden eagles around Scotland. I want to find out how the populations are doing and what environmental pressures may be affecting or benefitting them. So, by checking how chicks grow, analysing their blood, just as the doctor would check our blood, and listening to their heart and lungs, I can have a better idea of how they are doing. I also collect any goldies that are found dead around the country and, once foul play has been ruled out by the police, I examine them to try to find out what caused their death. Their health gives me an indication of the environment the birds live in, and if this is a healthy environment or it may be lacking food, or have contaminants that may be affecting them. My work, hopefully provides useful information for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project on where are the recommended populations for supplementation of chicks, or what are the normal or abnormal blood parameters in a healthy golden eagle chick.

What does the Golden Eagle mean to you?

For me the Golden Eagle means Home and the dreamed land at the same time, let me explain. I was born in Mexico, and as all Mexicans, the golden eagle is in our nation’s flag representing the sign that would indicate the best place were the Aztec city Tenochtitlan was to be founded. So, for me, golden eagles represent a land with potential, a healthy environment with vast amount of resources, and the indication that big things can happen.

Do you think it is important to help the Golden Eagle population in South of Scotland?

I think the supplementation, reintroduction or conservation of any species with an important role in the food chain, in this case, golden eagles as top predators, is of great importance as it can help maintain or restore an ecosystem and its healthy functioning. By looking after golden eagles, we are also looking after their environment and what is needed to sustain their populations. Their presence in the environment, will hopefully remind us to make the best decisions for all living species alike when thinking about land use, land management or industry development.

Do you have a favourite Golden Eagle story or memory?

In 2018, the day after some strong winds had hit the highlands, I was visiting nests with some members of the Raptor Study Group to blood sample chicks.When we arrived to the nest, to our surprise, we found a chick on the forest floor below the tree that was holding the nest. He must have fallen off with the strong winds of the previous night. Whilst giving the chick a health check to make sure it was unharmed and ready to go back with its sibling, one of the eagle parents flew over our heads to land on its nest. It was carrying a big branch and we believe some nest renovations were being made to fix the damage the storm had caused. It was majestic and tender to see it flying just above us, with its size and elegance and determination for caring for its young. The sound from the wings when it decided not to land but take off again as it saw us was unforgettable. We soon finished our job and left the nest to see the adult some time after returning to its chicks and to its home renovation work.