Please admire us only from distance

Sysľovské Polia is an inconspicuous wilderness just a few kilometres beyond Bratislava.

Great bustards at Sysľovské PoliaGreat bustards at Sysľovské Polia (Source: Jozef Chavko)

Those who want to see the largest flying bird in Europe have a place to go nearBratislava.

The civic association Raptor Protection of Slovakia is dedicated to researching and protecting birds of prey throughoutSlovakia. However, the special protection area of Sysľovské Polia just a few kilometres from Bratislava is a labour of love for the association. It is the only place in Slovakia where the largest flying bird in Europe – the great bustard – is found. The handsome red-footed falcon nests in Slovakia.

“It’s a pearl among protected areas inSlovakia,” said Jozef Chavko, chairman of the association, who began to shine with genuine enthusiasm as soon as he started speaking about the bustards and falcons. Thanks to the association’s activities, the latter began to nest in the area again.

Slovakia shares bustards with Austria and Hungary

The special protection area of Sysľovské Polia at the border withAustria and Hungary is one of the three bird protection areas of the great bustard in Slovakia. The second is Lehnice. However, the occurrence of this large, but colourfully unobtrusive bird is only sporadic in those areas. Sysľovské Polia, alongside the protected areas on the Austrian and Hungarian sides, forms an integrated area on which the approximately the 500-member West-Panonian bustard population lives.

The colony grows and thrives mainly due to the appropriate management of the territory on the Austrian and Hungarian sides. The Slovak part is still dominated by huge fields of corn and rapeseed, which are unsuitable for bustards. Due to the height of the plants, the bustards cannot take off from them and do not even find suitable food. In contrast, inAustria and Hungary, the fields are smaller and the crops are more diverse. Local farmers also leave part of the fields lying fallow. This further increases the diversity of plants, insects and animals occurring in the area.

In addition, while the protected area inAustria is ​​around 8,500 hectares and in Hungary it is about 9,000 hectares, in Slovakia it is only 1,773 hectares. The Slovak part also has a disadvantageous elongated shape bounded from one side by a highway. For this reason, it is forbidden to enter the protected area in Slovakia, unlike Austria or Hungary.

“The bustard is a very shy bird,” Chavko explains the reason of the ban. “It will fly away when you approach it at just 500 meters. Often intrusions stress the bustards and affect selection of the place for nesting. Also, bustard hens may leave a nest with eggs when repeatedly disturbed.”

If the entry into the protected area were allowed, there would be a risk that, due to frequent disturbance, the bustard would move completely to the Hungarian and Austrian part of the territory. For now, nature conservationists hope that Sysľovské Polia, which the bustards like especially during winter, will spread to other areas ofSlovakia. This year conservationists have been watching them at Pezinok, in the foothills of the Little Carpathians and in Galanta.

Building a wooden observation tower

Meanwhile,Austria and Hungary offer better conditions for the general public to observe bustards. There are several wooden observation towers with telescopes. One of them is, for example, near the cycle path by the Austrian village of Pama.

“During the mating cry, the bustard cock ruffles until he looks like a big white ball and can fight for territory and hens with a rival until they both have bloody beaks. Or when a 300-member flock grazes in the fields in winter – these are wonderful observations,” said Chavko.

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