26/03/2016
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White-tailed Eagle to colonise Orkney?

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A White-tailed Eagle colonisation of Orkney will add to the success of the species' reintroduction, as well as providing a tourist attraction for the islands. Photo: Chris Gomersall (www.rspb-images.com)
A White-tailed Eagle colonisation of Orkney will add to the success of the species' reintroduction, as well as providing a tourist attraction for the islands. Photo: Chris Gomersall (www.rspb-images.com)
The island of Hoy’s 'sea eagles' have returned for a second breeding attempt in Orkney, after failing last year.

A pair of White-tailed Eagles are currently preparing to nest on Hoy RSPB, raising hopes that this year may see Orkney’s first 'sea eagle' chicks in nearly 150 years.

The pair are assumed to be the birds that nested on the nature reserve last year, which was the first breeding attempt seen in the county since 1873. Although last year’s eggs were infertile, hopes are high that with growing maturity and their experience from last season, the birds may make local history this spring.

Alan Leitch, RSPB Scotland’s Sites Manager in Orkney, said: “It’s very exciting to see Hoy’s sea eagles back on the cliffs. It’s been quite a journey from their national extinction in 1918 to seeing these birds soaring over Orkney’s hills and coasts again, and with luck we may all witness the next step in their story this year.”

White-tailed Eagle has a long history in Orkney. A Pictish symbol stone found at the Knowe of Burrian, Harray, features a carving of one bird, while bones belonging to this species were found inside the Neolithic chambered tomb at Isbister, South Ronaldsay (aka the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’).

Alan Leitch continued: “With a wingspan of 2.4 m, sea eagles are one of the most magnificent birds you can hope to experience in Orkney. We’re looking forward to helping people spot this pair at an informal watchpoint at the small roadside car park for the Dwarfie Stone, opposite the Dwarfie Hamars, the cliffs where the birds have recently been seen displaying.

“To give these birds the best chance of success, please don’t approach the cliffs and keep dogs under very close control in the vicinity. There’s no problem with visiting the Dwarfie Stone, but to be on the safe side we would recommend not lingering too long or gathering in large groups there – the best views are to be had from the car park in any case.

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

White-tailed Eagle became extinct across Britain in the early 19th century due to a combination of widespread habitat loss and human persecution, with the last bird being shot in Shetland in 1918.

Following successful reintroductions since the 1970s on Rum, Wester Ross and more recently in Fife, the species is now reclaiming its former range. 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.
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