White-tailed eagles nest in Orkney after 142-year absence.

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A pair of sea eagles are currently nesting on RSPB Scotland’s Hoy nature reserve. It is the first time these birds have attempted to breed in Orkney since 1873. The news suggests Orkney may become the next stop on the sea eagles’ celebrated recolonisation of Scotland. Alan Leitch, RSPB Scotland’s Sites Manager in Orkney, said, “This is a great moment for Hoy and Orkney. Sea eagles are utterly magnificent birds, with a wing span of up to 2.4 m or 8 feet. To see them over the hills of Hoy is a forceful reminder of the sheer beauty of nature.” “Too often with wildlife, once it’s gone it’s gone. It is a privilege to welcome these birds back to a landscape they inhabited for thousands of years.”

Sea eagles have a long history in Orkney. The Bronze Age burial tomb at Isbister, South Ronaldsay (the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’) famously contains their bones, while a Pictish symbol stone found at the Knowe of Burrian, Harray, features a beautifully carved bird.

Sea eagles became extinct across the UK in the early 19th century due to combination of widespread habitat loss and human persecution, with the last bird shot in Shetland in 1918.

Following successful reintroductions since the 1970s on Rum, Wester Ross and more recently in Fife, sea eagles are now reclaiming their former ranges. Success for the pair in Hoy, which have returned to Orkney of their own accord, would represent a significant expansion in breeding range for the birds in Scotland.

The nearest sea eagle territories to Orkney are in the north-west of Scotland, although the origins of the pair currently nesting in Hoy are not yet known. Either or both birds could have hatched in the wild in Scotland, or even in Scandinavia.

Alan Leitch continued, “As Hoy’s first breeding sea eagles in nearly 150 years, we expect this young pair will attract a lot of attention over the next few weeks or months.

“The birds are nesting on the Dwarfie Hamars. To give them the best chance of success, anyone keen to see the birds should keep their distance and ideally keep dogs under close control in the vicinity. The roadside car park for the Dwarfie Stone is a good place to watch from but lingering too long at the Dwarfie Stone itself could alarm the birds.”

“Nesting sea eagles are specially protected by law, so if you see any signs of disturbance please pass your concerns onto the police straightaway.”

The sea eagle is a globally threatened species: there are only around 10,000 pairs in the world, a third of which live in Norway. The re-introduction of sea eagles to their former haunts aims to expand their range and help ensure their survival.

Also known as white-tailed eagles, they are the UK’s largest bird of prey. The birds take around five years to mature enough to breed, but can live into their 30s, generally forming long-term and monogamous bonds with their mates.

The pair currently nesting in Hoy have frequented the area for the last three springs and summers. Both are young birds, thought to be four to five years old, and this is their first known nesting attempt. Although they are inexperienced parents and may not be successful in raising chicks this summer, RSPB Scotland staff are optimistic that the birds will persevere over the coming years to make Hoy their home.

The local RSPB Scotland team are happy to answer questions about the sea eagles, and can be contacted on 01856 850176 or at orkney@rspb.org.uk (office closed Monday 6 April).

2 comments to White-tailed eagles nest in Orkney after 142-year absence.

  • nirofo

    It was on the cards for a while, the birds have been seen in several places around the north coast of Caithness for several years now. It was only a matter of time before they picked a suitable nesting location, it’s only a stones throw as the eagle flies from Caithness to the old traditional nest site on Hoy in Orkney.

  • Fantastic news. Most in Angus are hoping that the pair which attempted to breed unsuccessfully last year have better fortunes in 2015.