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"Scotland's white-tailed eagles reach record numbers" - December 2011

17-12-2011  - 16/12/2011White Tailed Sea Eagle (c) Chris Gomersall / RSPB

A record year for country's largest bird of prey

December 2011: This year has proved another record breaking year for breeding pairs of Scotland's largest bird of prey. White-tailed eagles soared to new heights despite heavy storms throughout the 2011 breeding season. Conservationists, and many sea eagle enthusiasts, had been concerned that the high winds felt across Scotland in May could have had a detrimental impact on breeding white-tailed eagles at the vulnerable part of the season when most nests contain small chicks. Indeed, some nests failed including that of BBC Springwatch star, nicknamed Itchy, who experts fear lost his chicks in the storm.

However, the bad weather failed to blow the species off course. Recent survey figures for the 2011 breeding season reveal that there were 57 territorial pairs in Scotland, an increase of ten per cent on the previous year. A total of 43 young fledged successfully from these nests.

Extinct in Britain at start of 20th century
White-tailed eagles finally became extinct in Britain at the beginning of the 20th century, due to human persecution and collecting of eggs and skins. A reintroduction programme began in 1975 on the Isle of Rum in the Inner Hebrides , aimed at returning these majestic raptors to the Scottish skies.

Since then, the species' population has been steadily recovering, and conservationists believe there are now as many 'flying barn doors', as they are affectionately known, in the UK as there were 150 years ago.

An adult bird has an impressive 8ft wing-span and striking white tail, making the white-tailed eagle a spectacular sight, and a tourist magnet for areas such as Mull and Skye. On Mull alone, white-tailed eagles, boost the local economy by more than £5 million every year.

The successful breeding season on the west coast comes as a further 16 white-tailed eagle chicks, from Norway, were released from a secret location in Fife in August.

'It's fantastic to see them back where they belong'
The chicks are part of a six-year project, now entering its final year, to increase and expand the range of this iconic species into its former haunts in the east of Scotland .

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: ‘The white-tailed eagle is part of Scotland's rich natural heritage and it is fantastic to see them back where they belong and gradually increasing in numbers and range on the west coast. They are improving biodiversity in this country and bringing in important economic benefits to the communities they soar above.

‘Now with the east coast reintroduction entering its final year, we are anticipating the first steps towards the establishment of a breeding population of sea eagles on the other side of Scotland. There is plenty of suitable habitat and natural wild prey to support a healthy population.'


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