This article was featured in our 2019 Spring Summer Newsletter – read the full newsletter here.
The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England have recently been granted a licence by Natural England to re-introduce white-tailed eagles Haliaeetus albicilla to the Isle of Wight. The five-year programme will begin with the release 6-8 juvenile birds this summer. It is hoped to establish a small base population in the Solent area from Poole to Pagham, with birds eventually spreading out along the South Coast. Studies in the Nederland’s have shown that the species are content to nest in populated areas.
White-tailed eagle prey on fish and water birds but will also scavenge readily. Most of the water birds taken by eagles are thought to be injured or sick, with carrion making up around 30% of their diet during the winter months. Fish form an important part of the birds’ diet during the spring and summer, when we can expect to see them fishing for abundant species like grey mullet Mugil cephalus, found within the shallow waters of our estuaries and harbours.
Disturbance caused by the eagles to wading birds is understood to be similar to that of peregrine falcons Falco peregrinus. Prey species quickly become accustomed to their presence, if they are not so already – breeding colonies of gulls and terns are very adept at mobbing and driving off the eagles.
As well as the conservation benefits, it has been shown that in areas where white-tailed eagles have been re-introduced previously, they have generated significant benefits for the local economy. The Isle of Mull for example, receives up to £5 million per year through eagle related tourism.
I will be looking out excitedly for these birds later in the year. With their impressive 2 m – 2.4 m wingspan supporting a 3.5 kg – 7.4 kg bird, they will be certain to turn a few heads!
Post by Nick Gray