Remains of world’s oldest ringed golden eagle found in Sutherland

Golden Eagle Strathspey, C/R Terry Pickford

The male golden eagle had been BTO rung as a chick at its eyrie in glen Cannich by Scottish ornithologist Roy Dennis on the 30th June 1985, the old eagle when it was discovered would have been  about 33 years old when it died.

The previous record for a ringed golden eagle was 32 years in Sweden, while the Scottish record was 16 years.

Roy Dennis told BBC Scotland that he had found his diary entry for the day he ringed the eagle.

“My diary tells me that on that day I had my older daughter with me, and Rona and I went up to the glen at Cannich and climbed up through the forest.”

Home range

The diary entry, for 30 June, said there was “one young eagle found in the nest” and that it was “well grown.”

Golden Eagle 04

This image of a male eaglet photographed in 1908 in the Highlands was about the same age as the eagle rung by Roy Dennis in June 1985

The bird, which was ringed on its right leg, has never been recorded in the wild during its lifetime.

“I suppose I’ve ringed 75 eagles in my life and when you put a ring on you rarely hear about them again,” Roy added.

“But to find that that bird is the oldest recorded ringed golden eagle anywhere in the world…

“There will just be one or two percent that go on to be really aged eagles. That bird was very lucky. It moved north to the Inchnadamph area and took over a home range there that was particularly good because it had a lot of rabbits.”

Although not fully ruled out, foul play in the bird’s death is not suspected.

‘More conflict’

It is more likely that it died in a territorial battle over a nest which it had probably occupied for several decades.

Roy said: “That bird was getting old and young eagles will be looking at that home range and those nests, and thinking ‘I’d like those’.

“That bird will (have been) subject to more and more conflict with four, five or six-year-old males.

“I would guess that that bird had a fight, it got injured and then it died and the young male would have taken over. But it probably did that to an old eagle way back in probably about 1990.”

Each ring contains a unique identification number with information about the bird held on a central database, in this case with the British Trust for Ornithology.

The previous Scottish record was a chick in Kielder Forest which was ringed in 1991 and found dead in the Borders in August 2007.

Two Swedish golden eagles are on record as surviving for 31 and 32 years.

The above article was first published by the BBC News, and written Kevin Keane BBC Scotland’s environment correspondent

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