Animals

First sea eagle chick in Orkney for over 140 years

It’s the first time a sea eagle chick has been successfully hatched on the Scottish Island in over 140 years following a programme to reintroduce the birds in the 1970s to the UK.Thursday, June 14, 2018

By Kieren Puffett
The sea eagle, or white-tailed eagle, is the UK's largest bird of prey with a wingspan of over 2 metres.

A sea eagle chick has successfully hatched ion Orkney for the first time in over 140 years. One chick has been seen, however it’s believed that there may be another sea eagle chick, according to observers who are watching the parents’ behaviour there. Females lay between 1-2 eggs though exceptional it can be three.

Sea Eagles, also known as white-tailed eagles, were recorded as extinct in 1918 in the UK when the last bird was shot on Shetland, but 82 birds were re-introduced to Scotland from Norway between 1975 and 1985.

They first bred successfully in 1985 on the Isle of Mull and established territories on a number of islands on the west coast. Additional releases in Wester Ross and Fife in subsequent decades further expanded their range and there are now over 100 breeding pairs of sea eagles in Scotland. (Related: Why the Unicorn is alive, well and in Scotland.)

Sea Eagles Reintroduced To UK

The sea eagle will swoop low over water looking for fish to catch. When fishing, they fly low over water, stop to hover for a moment and drop to snatch fish from the surface.

A pair have been seen in Hoy every year since 2013 but nesting attempts in 2015 and 2016 were both unsuccessful, a common occurrence for young birds. It’s thought to be the parents’ first year and nesting attempt together, with a female from previous years pairing up with a new male.

It is not known whether the pair in Hoy are from the Scottish mainland or if they have travelled from Scandinavia. The nest, known as an eyrie, is perched high on a cliff face well hidden from the naked eye.

RSPB Scotland is running “Eaglewatch” every day in the nearby Dwarfie Stone car park to allow people to catch a glimpse of them without disturbing the new parents and their young. Another male eagle has also been observed on the island and is estimated to be around three years old.

Successfully Breeding Sea Eagles

While the adults are rearing their young their requirement for food will double.

Lee Shields, RSPB Scotland’s Hoy Warden said: “It’s fantastic that the eggs laid in spring have hatched, the first successful breeding season here since the 19th century. This breeding attempt is still at the early stages, with young often in the nest for up to 14 weeks. Everybody was so excited when the first pair arrived and we’ve been keeping our fingers crossed for this ever since. We were hugely disappointed when a previous pair abandoned the territory last year, so to have at least one chick now is even more special.

Shields added: “Even though they hadn’t nested here since 1873, white-tailed eagles have long been associated with Orkney’s natural and cultural heritage. Our RSPB Scotland reserve in Hoy is already home to hen harriers, great skuas, red-throated divers and more, so to see the sea eagles return backs up just how special this environment is. Now we’re just hoping that the chicks do well as it’s always uncertain with first-time parents.”

The sea eagle also has a strong cultural connection to Scotland that goes back thousands of years. On Orkney there is a stone age burial chamber known as the 'Tomb of Eagles' and it's one of the islands most significant cultural finds, which contains the bones of up to 100 humans and 14 sea eagles.

The last sea eagle in the UK was shot in 1918, but a programme to reintroduce the bird to the UK was launched in the 1970s and there are now over a 100 breeding pairs of sea eagles in the UK.