New Osprey Translocation in the Basque Country

Young Scottish ospreys testing their wings on the North Coast of Spain

12 young Scottish ospreys have just been released on the north Spanish coast near Bilbao as the first stage of a 5 year project to restore breeding ospreys to the Basque country.  In 2012, a project proposal from the Department of Environment of the Biscay Regional Council and the Urdaibai Bird Center was submitted to Scottish Natural Heritage. A special licence was issued in 2013 to Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife near Forres to collect 12 young ospreys from nests with more than one young in the ScottishHighlands and Moray. In early July suitable nests were visited between Caithness and Strathspey and 12 young birds were selected.  They came from nests on private land or Forestry Commission Scotland.

Birds were inspected by Jane Harley of the Grantown-on-Spey vet practice on 8th July and at dawn next day they were taken to Aberdeen airport and flown by British Airways to Heathrow. Roy Dennis and Dr Aitor Galarza from the  Biscay Department of the Environment accompanied the ospreys and were able to feed them en route to Spain at the Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow Airport.

Later that night they reached the specially built hacking cages overlooking Urdaibai estuary to the north of Bilbao. Three birds were placed in each cage and were fed by the bird centre staff on fresh fish delivered through openings in the back of cages.  The young ospreys were unable to see the people and during July they were grew to full-size, learnt to fly and were able to watch activities on the estuary.

In the past 10 days they have been released sequentially depending on their age and everyone is really delighted that they are progressing extremely well. Once free they were able to come back to nest platforms containing a daily supply of  fresh fish which the young birds would take away and eat, as if a parent had provided food for them. What was most exciting was that one of the birds caught its first fish in the estuary five days after being released.

Urdaibai estuary is about the size of Findhorn Bay in Moray with the difference that it has a very high population of grey mullet. This estuary is regularly used by migrating Scottish ospreys in spring and autumn. In fact this place was the temporary home in spring 2008 of the famous osprey Logie tracked by Roy Dennis using the first GPS satellite transmitter fitted to a British osprey. Aitor Galarza found and photographed Logie following our email request and this resulted in a partnership between Scotland and the Basque country to restore breeding ospreys.

This project follows on from the successful reintroduction of ospreys to Andalusia in southern Spain, which involved young ospreys from Germany, Finland and Scotland. The first pair to breed in 2008 was a Scottish female and German male, and in 2013 it was extremely exciting to know that the project team in Andalusia located 13 breeding pairs. The Osprey had been extinct for many years in mainland Spain.

Roy Dennis said “It has been really great that we have been able to help the Basque people try to restore breeding ospreys and we are very grateful to SNH for their support and to all the people who helped us with the collection and translocation. We wish it success”

Dr Aitor Galarza, the project director, said “We are so pleased that we have young ospreys flying in Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve at the start of an exciting project. There is huge public interest and we are most grateful to Scotland for their support”