First white-tailed eagle chicks hatch in Orkney for over 145 years
A white-tailed eagle chick has successfully hatched in Orkney for the first time in over 140 years, RSPB Scotland has announced.
The momentous news about the UK’s largest bird of prey was unveiled on this evening’s edition of Springwatch on BBC Two.
One chick has been seen, however local RSPB Scotland staff believe from watching the parents’ behaviour that there may be two.
Also known as sea eagles, it’s been five years since these birds reappeared in Orkney after an absence of 95 years. The species were wiped out in the UK when the last bird was shot on Shetland in 1918, and it’s thanks to a reintroduction programme begun in the 1970s that the birds are once again found in Scotland.
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.
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.”
After the last white-tailed eagles in the UK were driven to extinction in the early 20th century, 82 birds were re-introduced 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 in Scotland.
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. However, RSPB Scotland is running “Eaglewatch” every day in the nearby Dwarfie Stone car park to allow people to see the eagles 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.