Posted 14th Jun 2018 by Peter Byrne
For the first time in more than 140 years, a white-tailed eagle chick has successfully hatched in Orkney, RSPB Scotland has announced
So far, one chick has been seen, but RSPB Scotland staff believe that there could be two, if the behaviour of the parents is anything to go by.
It has been five years since the birds, also known as sea eagles, reappeared in Orkney, turning up after an absence of 95 years. The species were wiped out in the UK after the last bird was shot on Shetland in 1918. However, thanks to a reintroduction programme that started in the 1970s, the birds are now being found in Scotland again.
A pair have been seen in Hoy every year since 2013, but nesting attempts in 2015 and 2016 both proved unsuccessful- this can be a common occurrence for young birds.
It's believed this is the first year that the parents attempt to nest together, with a female from previous years pairing with a new male.
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."
"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 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."
Following the last white-tailed eagle being driven to extinction in the early 20th century, there were 82 birds that were re-introduced from Norway between 1975 and 1985. In 1985, they successfully bred for the first time on the Isle of mull and went on to establish territories on several islands along the west coast.
There were additional releases made in Wester Ross and Fife in subsequent decades which helped to further expand their range, and now, there are over 100 breeding pairs.
It is currently unknown whether the pair in Hoy are from the Scottish mainland - alternatively, they could have come from Scandinavia too. The nest, which is known as an eyrie, is perched high up on a cliff face which is well hidden from the naked eye.
RSPB Scotland is running 'Eaglewatch' every day in the Dwarfie Stone car park, allowing people to catch a glimpse of them without having to disturb the new parents and their young.
There is also another male eagle which has been observed on the island, which is estimated to be three years old.
Image courtesy of Raymond Besant, Orkney.com