Missing Golden Eagle is presumed dead


...but young male gives hope for the future

Golden Eagle: (Photo: Nick Martin)

The female from the only pair of Golden Eagles in England has not been seen for several weeks. Her absence from the breeding valley in the Lake District at this time of year is very unusual, and it is feared that she may have died, The RSPB said today (Monday 5 April 2004).

RSPB wardens will continue to search nearby valleys in the hope that she may be located, but are now becoming increasingly convinced that she has died. She was the second female eagle to occupy a remote valley site at Haweswater, near Penrith, and first arrived in the Lakes in 1981. It is believed that she would have been at least 28 years old this year.

Golden Eagles have been present in Cumbria's Lake District since the late 1950s and first nested in the Haweswater area in 1969. However, the two eagles that have most recently occupied the area are not the original birds, and both the male and female of the pair have changed several times over the years.

The male Golden Eagle is still in the Haweswater area and is putting on spectacular display flights, probably in the hope of attracting a new female to join him. The male is the third male eagle to take possession of the Haweswater territory, and arrived as recently as 2001. He is believed to be a youngster in eagle years and is probably only seven years old. The previous male disappeared in late 2001 when he was at least 30 years old; at the time, he was the oldest known British eagle.

Since 1969, the various Haweswater Golden Eagles have produced 16 young (the first female was responsible for 7 and the second female for 9), but no young have fledged since 1996 and no eggs have been laid in four of the last five years.

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The 9,500 ha Haweswater Estate is owned and managed by United Utilities, including a partnership with The RSPB. Every year the RSPB has carried out a round-the-clock guard on the eagles and organises public viewing of the birds from a viewpoint sited at a safe distance in Riggindale valley. The RSPB plans to continue to run the viewpoint this year, despite the disappearance of the female eagle.

The original eagles that arrived in the Lake District in the 1950s would have come from the population in Scotland - a short flight for an eagle! The RSPB says that the speed with which a fresh male arrived on territory in 2001, gives hope for the arrival of a new female and they remain optimistic that Golden Eagles will once again nest successfully in England. The UK population of Golden Eagles is around 420 pairs, and the nearest birds to Cumbria are in southwest Scotland.

Bill Kenmir, RSPB Haweswater reserve warden, said: "This is sad news, as these magnificent eagles are a powerful symbol of all that is most special about the Lake District, its wonderful open spaces and spectacular landscape. The female eagle was a great favourite with local people and regular watchers, and over a period of more than 20 years had successfully reared nine young. The sight of her soaring flights over the valley will be missed by all our wardens, reserve volunteers and visitors."

David Crawshaw, United Utilities environment manager, said: "Everyone will be hoping that a new female will arrive to join the male bird, and if this happens then there is a very good chance that in future years we may once again see successful nesting in England by these wonderful birds of prey."

Although probably best known as the home of the English eagles, the Haweswater Estate is also very important for a wide range of birds and other wildlife. The oak woodlands are an important habitat for Common Redstarts, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler; while Peregrine Falcons nest on the crags, and Ring Ouzel and Wheatear nest on the fell sides.

Written by: David Hirst, RSPB