Sixteen White-tailed Eagles have taken their first flight in Scottish skies, as a successful reintroduction programme enters its penultimate year. The birds, released from a secret location in Fife, arrived from Norway in June as part of the East Scotland Sea Eagle project, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland. Since their arrival, they have been reared in specially built aviaries on a diet of Grey Squirrel, Roe Deer and Haddock, until they were old enough to fledge.
The young eagles will now join Scotland's growing White-tailed Eagle population and help restore the species to its former range. Since the reintroduction initiative began in 2007, a total of 80 birds have been released along the east coast of the country. With a wing span of 8 feet, the White-tailed Eagle is the UK's largest bird of prey. It was completely wiped out in Britain in the early 20th century and only returned when a reintroduction programme began on the island of Rum in 1975, aimed at bring these majestic raptors back to Scotland's skies.
Clair Smith, RSPB Scotland's East Sea Eagle Project Officer, releasing a juvenile White-tailed Eagle (Pauline Johnson).
Claire Smith, RSPB Scotland East Scotland Sea Eagle Officer, said: "It's great to see these birds fit, ready and raring to try out those impressive wings for the first time. Each bird has been fitted with a radio and wing tags so both project staff and the public can follow their progress. For 2011 we've chosen red wing tags with white letters and numbers, and as usual any sightings can be reported to us via email. Every day our older birds are spotted in locations up and down the country and we're hopeful in the next couple of years the east of Scotland could have its first wild-bred chick."
Susan Davies, SNH Policy & Advice Director, said: "More and more people in the east of Scotland are starting to spot these spectacular sea eagles in places like Loch Leven and throughout Fife, as well as further afield. This is a firm sign that the sea eagle is spreading back out into areas of its former range in Scotland. All of this is of course about protecting and restoring our wildlife; something that is everyone's responsibility and to all our benefit."