18/04/2015
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Another Irish White-tailed Eagle poisoned

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A six-year-old female White-tailed Eagle has been found dead in the nest at a nest site in Connemara. Found on 1 April by Conservation Ranger Dermot Breen and recovered by a team from the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 2 April, the subsequent post-mortem at the Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Athlone and toxicology analysis at the State Laboratory, Celbridge, revealed the bird had been poisoned.

This female was released in Killarney National Park in 2009 as part of a reintroduction programme for the species managed by the Golden Eagle Trust in partnership with the National Parks & Wildlife Service. The female settled in the Roundstone area of Connemara in 2012 where she paired up with a male. In 2014 the pair laid eggs at a nest in a remote site but the eggs failed to hatch chicks successfully. Both birds were on the point of nesting again this year at the same nest when tragedy struck. Indeed the post-mortem found the female to contain two developing eggs, so this female was within a few days of laying eggs.


The poisoned female White-tailed Eagle at her nest (Photo: Dermot Breen/NPWS)

The loss of this breeding female comes as a serious blow to the reintroduction project. White-tailed Eagles reach maturity and begin breeding at about five years of age. Seven pairs laid eggs in nests in 2014, with one nest near Mountshannon, Co Clare, successfully fledging chicks in 2013 and 2014. It was hoped that the Connemara pair would one of a number of successful nests in Ireland in 2015. The loss of a breeding adult has been found to lead to the desertion of breeding sites with potentially serious implications for the long-term viability of the reintroduced population.

This is the 13th confirmed poisoning of a White-tailed Eagle in Ireland since the reintroduction project began in 2007. The use of poisons to control foxes and crows has been banned since 2010 but the illegal use of such substances remains a huge threat to wildlife including birds of prey that consume carrion. Over the five years of the release phase of the project 100 young eagles were collected from nests in Norway and released in Killarney National Park, Co Kerry. Thirty-one of the released eagles have since been recovered dead, with illegal poisoning by far and away the greatest threat to the recovery of this once-native eagle to Ireland. Despite these losses the number of pairs in the wild rose to 14 in 2014, with most birds now mature enough to breed.

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"This is a very disheartening incident as the killing of this breeding female has effectively put an end to any breeding attempt of this incredible species in West Galway for at least another five years," said NPWS Conservation Ranger Dermot Breen. "To see the female lying dead on her nest was a very sad and sickening sight, especially with the knowledge that she would have been due to lay two eggs. Historically up to 14 pairs were known to have bred in the Connemara region up to 1838. Connemara lost its White-tailed Eagles shortly after this with the introduction of poison. It's deeply frustrating to see history repeating itself. I've encountered no negative feedback from any local farmers with regard to the presence of the eagles over the last three years. Many landowners would ask how the eagles were doing and would tell me if they had been lucky enough to see them in the locality. The loss of this female is also a great loss to tourism in the area. Connemara is world renowned for being an area of unspoilt beauty. Unfortunately this illegal and irresponsible action is likely to tarnish Connemara's green image, an area that relies heavily on tourism."

"Although all losses impact the project, the loss of this female is very difficult to take," said Dr Allan Mee, Project Manager with the Golden Eagle Trust. "She and her mate had been resident in Connemara for the last four years and it was only a matter of times before they produced chicks."

On Friday the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, condemned the poisoning: "The loss of this breeding female comes as a major blow to the reintroduction project for White-tailed Eagles. This is a very serious incident as the killing of this breeding female has effectively put an end to any breeding attempt of this beautiful species in West Galway for at least another five years. It is particularly disappointing considering this bird was due to lay eggs shortly."

"It is believed that the poison is generally intended to kill foxes or crows, but is leading to the poisoning of these rare birds. Poisoning remains the greatest threat to the re-introduction of White-tailed Eagles here and I would remind the public that the use of poison to kill animals such as foxes or crows has been banned since 2010."

Written by: The Golden Eagle Trust