Bird Sightings : Hebrides : White-tailed Eagle
(Eagle, Erne, Ern, White-tailed Sea-eagle, Gray Sea Eagle, Greenland White-Tailed Eagle, Grey Sea Eagle, White-Tailed Eagle, White-Tailed Sea-Eagle)
Photograph © Graham Forsyth
Undisclosed site - Isle of Harris - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
My wife and I have just spent two superb weeks, 7-21 May, on your wonderful island ...despite the horizontal rain and lack of vertical sunshine, I managed to attain some acceptable photos of the white tailed eagle, black-throated diver, dunlin, whimbrel, mountain hare, and otters, plus a landscape with a beautiful rainbow, could rename the Western Isle, the Rainbow Isles, never seen as many in such a short period.
The eagle image carrying a lamb. This was carrion as no fresh blood was visible. I was lucky to snatch this as we were driving round ... when it hove into view from over the hills. I slamed on the brakes, leapt out of the car and did the best I could within the few seconds it was in view. .... The image of the eagle flying low over the water is carrying a greylag gosling in it's talons. This was the only type of eagle attacks we saw , and the cottage we stayed at is surrounded by sheep with young lambs.
Our White-tailed Eagle photographs:
- White-tailed Eagle (Eagle, Erne, Ern, White-tailed Sea-eagle, Gray Sea Eagle, Greenland White-Tailed Eagle, Grey Sea Eagle, White-Tailed Eagle, White-Tailed Sea-Eagle)
- Haliaeetus albicilla
- UK: Re-introduced Breeder, Scarce Visitor
- UK: RED LIST, 42 pairs (summer) BTO
- WI: Extinct in 1910. Resident or scarce visitor following re-introduction project . Possibly 7 pairs?
- Breeds: Sexually mature at 4/5 yrs. Pairs for life. If one dies then new partner. Stick nest huge, in tree or on coastal cliff. (Subsequent generations reuse nest). 1-3 eggs Mar-Apr. Incubation 38 days. Fledge 11/12 wks. Europe, North & Central Asia, Siberia, Greenland, Iceland
- Winters: South to Europe, India
- Habitat: Sheltered coasts, rivers, large lakes (Territory 20-50sq miles & overlaps Golden Eagle's).
- Diet: Hunting & scavenging: Fish, birds, rabbits, mammals, eggs, carrion, will steal food. Requires excess of half kilo daily (1lb).
- Largest UK bird of prey. 70-90cm (2½-3ft) long with a 190-240cm, (6-8ft) wingspan. Adult female can weigh almost a stone (6.9kg).
Brown body. Head & neck pale. Massive long, broad wings ('fingered' ends) 'Barn doors' is the famous description. Blackish flight feathers. Short, wedge-shaped tail. Yellow bill & legs
Juvenile darker tail & bill. Sub-adult tail white with dark terminal band. Adult tail white.
- Max recorded age 28yrs 1mth
- Listen to a White-tailed Eagle (RSPB site)
- Similar birds: Golden Eagle (Golden Eagles prefer moors & mountains, White-tailed Eagles prefer coasts) , Buzzard (rounded, short wings)
Extinction of the White-tailed Eagle in the UK
In 1918 in the Shetland Islands, the last UK bred White-tailed Eagle was shot and the species became extinct in the UK. Long before then the White-tailed Eagle had been common in some parts of the UK, but habitat destruction combined with persecution (due to a reputation for taking lambs), had led to it's decline.
Re-introduction of the White-tailed Eagle into Scotland
From 1975 to 1985, 82 young White Tailed-eagles from Norwegian nests were released to Fair Isle and Rum, they bred, and the first chick fledged in 1985. Later more young eagles from Norway were released in Wester Ross.
By 2007 there were 42 breeding pairs of White-tailed Eagles in Scotland. An estimated total of 200 eagles, and 34 young eagles fledged in that year alone.
The core population is still found on Skye, Mull and the Western Isles but the White-tailed Eagles have expanded on this range.
See acknowledgements to those re-introduced the White-tailed Eagle
Threats to the White-tailed Eagle Current Population
At least seven White-tailed Eagles have been killed illegally since the project to re-introduce them began and at least four clutches of eggs have been stolen.
Egg thieves are still a major problem, in 2001 an egg collector from London was arrested for disturbing Golden Eagles. He was trying to steal eggs from a nest on South Uist.
There is a BBC article written in 2008 about another egg-collector caught with more than 7,000 eggs in his collection, 653 of those eggs were from the UK's most protected species such as the Red-necked Phalarope. He also had eggs from Barn Owls, Golden Eagles, Ospreys, Choughs, Peregrine Falcons, and almost 40 Black-necked Grebe's eggs. (RSPB estimates there are only 40 - 60 breeding pairs of Black-necked Grebes in the whole of the UK....)
- Keep your eyes open for trouble.
- Quickly phone the police or RSPB if you are at all worried about the safety of the eagles.
- Don't tell people if you know where there are White-tailed Eagle nests
- If you know where the White-tailed Eagles are breeding do not take photographs of them on the nest. Disturb breeding Eagles and you are going to be arrested ...
- Don't mention where you have seen White-tailed Eagles during breeding time - (locations where the birds of prey have been sighted at breeding time are kept vague on our bird sightings page).
A lot of people think that egg-collecting does not happen anymore, it is an archaic thing to do in these enlightened times - but sadly the rarer a species becomes the greater a target it is ...
White-tailed Eagle Courtship
White-tailed Eagles are mature at four or five years of age. They pair for life and their aerial courtship display culminates in the pair locking claws mid-air and whirling earthwards in series of spectacular cartwheels.
They produce one to three eggs per year March or April, the eggs are incubated for 38 days (both parents). Once hatched the female does most of the feeding. The young eagles fledge at 11 - 12 weeks, remaining in the general area of the nest, with their parents for another 6 - 10 weeks.
Collective nouns for Eagles
Two or more eagles are called an aerie, convocation, jubilee, soar, or spread of eagles
White-tailed Eagle records in the Western Isles
Extinct in 1910. Resident or scarce visitor following re-introduction project.
Possibly 7 pairs?
On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the White-tailed Eagle is during a month or the more likely you are to see it
(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)
Those who have been responsible for the re-introduction of the White-tailed Eagle to Scotland
This acknowledgement is from the RSPB web site,
"The re-introduction of White-tailed eagles to Scotland was pioneered by Roy Dennis and is now overseen by the Sea Eagle Project Team, jointly chaired by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage, also benefiting from expertise from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the National Trust for Scotland.
The project could not have succeeded without support in Norway from Harald Misund, the Directorate for Nature Management, the County Governor, Department of the Environment in Salten District and the Havern Club, Bode. The Royal Air Force and the Royal Norwegian Air Force transported the young eagles between Norway and Scotland.
In Scotland, we gratefully acknowledge support over the years of, among others, Forestry Commission Scotland, Strathclyde Police and Northern Constabulary, as well as landowners, crofters, farmers, fishermen, wildlife tour operators, volunteers and others in rural communities in the west of Scotland."
Other local bird photographs
Sources of information for the bird sightings section