June 2007

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2007 |  June 2007

White-tailed eagles to fly again in east Scotland

22 June 2007
White-tailed eagle chicks have touched down at RAF Kinloss with the launch of the next phase of the reintroduction programme for Britain's largest and most spectacular bird of prey.Delivered by the Norwegian Air Force, the juvenile birds (also known as sea eagles) are destined for 10 purpose-built aviaries containing replica nests at a secret location on Forestry Commission Scotland land. Here they will be held for almost two months until they can fly before being released to soar in the skies again over east Scotland.Aged between four and eight weeks, the chicks have been collected from nests in Norway by the Norwegian Ornithological Society over the last 12 days. Before they were carefully loaded onto the 'Orion' aircraft for their one-and-a-half-hour flight to Kinloss, the chicks were held in similar aviaries near the town of Alesund in west central Norway since their collection began on 10 June.

The East Scotland Sea Eagle Project, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Forestry Commission Scotland, is the third phase of a successful reintroduction programme which began on the island of Rum in 1975. This was almost 60 years after the last native pair bred in Skye and the species then became locally extinct in the British Isles. Persecution had driven white-tailed eagles away from east Scotland much earlier, and by the mid 1800s, the birds were confined to wild and remote areas on Scotland's west coast. Although people have come to associate the birds with isolated mountainous regions away from human habitation, in the majority of their world range the birds' natural habitat is coastal lowland wetlands and estuarine areas with shallow productive waters. This kind of habitat in east Scotland is widely available, so the new birds should fare extremely well once they become established. In the past, lowland Scots would have been far more familiar with the white-tailed eagle than our now iconic golden eagle. If left to their own devices the now stable west coast populations might take decades before they begin to re-occupy their former haunts in the eastern lowlands. For this reason the east coast project will continue over a further four years, with up to 20 chicks a year being brought from Norway and released, so that a self-sustaining population will become established.

Claire Smith, East Scotland Sea Eagle Officer of RSPB Scotland, said: 'These birds are a gift from the people of Norway to the people of Scotland. White-tailed eagles became extinct in the East of Scotland less than 200 years ago due to human persecution and its wonderful that they are coming back to where they belong. This project will help secure the future of the whole Scottish white-tailed eagle population.'
The release site gives the birds a wide view over the landscape from their aviaries so that this imprints and they remember it. Once the birds are released, a food dump will be maintained on the ground near the aviaries to supplement their feeding whilst they learn to hunt and scavenge for themselves on carrion, seabirds fish and waterfowl.Each chick will also be fitted with wing tags and radio backpacks prior to release so that they can be radio tracked for up to five years. This has not happened on previous phases of the introduction programme, and it is hoped that the use of new technology will give researchers a unique insight into the birds' dispersal, survival and establishment of breeding territories.Minister for Environment Michael Russell said: 'The white-tailed eagle is a magnificent, graceful bird, whose reintroduction to the East of Scotland I was delighted to approve. The equivalent project on the West coast has proved to be extremely popular amongst visitors and contributes approximately £1.5 million annually to the economy on Mull. I look forward to the east coast reintroduction resulting in similar benefits and further enhancing the area’s biodiversity.'
Ian Jardine, Chief Executive of SNH, said: 'The white-tailed eagle is an important part of Scotland’s biodiversity. SNH has believed, since we were involved with the original west coast reintroduction, that this bird should be restored to Scotland’s natural heritage. These chicks represent another step forward in restoring what was lost to all of us.
Releasing these birds on the east coast, where many people in Scotland live, means that in years to come, thousands of people will be able to enjoy watching these birds.'
Moira Baptie, Environment Manager for Forestry Commission Scotland, said: 'Scotland's forests and woodlands are home to some of our most magnificent wildlife. We are delighted to support and help with the reintroduction of the eagles which will become a fantastic feature of the east coast of Scotland. The white-tailed eagle is an impressive bird and it will be great to have it back in our skies. We are looking forward to the sea eagles nesting in east coast woodlands and hope it will become a regular sight for local people to enjoy.'

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2007 |  June 2007

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