A Year on the Wing

Today marks a notable day for the White-tailed Eagle project – it is exactly a year since we released the first six birds on the Isle of Wight in partnership with Forestry England. Four of the young eagles have survived their first twelve months and their satellite transmitters have provided a very detailed insight into their movements. These data, coupled with our own field observations, and those of others around the country, have shown how the young birds are living successfully in the English landscape. Over the last few weeks we have been pleased that one of these birds, G274, has joined the newly-released juveniles at the release site. This is an extremely encouraging sign because this older bird will act as an excellent role model for the youngsters. Here Tim Mackrill describes the recent movements of the four birds. You might also like to listen to our latest podcast in which we look back at the first year of the project.

G274 has only made one six day trip away from the Isle of Wight in recent months (photo by Ainsley Bennett)


Over the last few months G274 has been very settled on the Isle of Wight, regularly catching Grey Mullet in the estuaries and Rabbits on the downs. He has also been seen catching Cuttlefish just off the coast of the Island twice this week. There has been little incentive for the young male to leave the Isle of Wight as a result, but as the satellite tracking data is showing us, young White-tailed Eagles can be very nomadic and the explorations in their first two years are a key way for them to learn the landscape. 

G274 has made only one prolonged flight away from the Isle of Wight since the end of May. On 20th June the young male spent the morning at Brading Marsh RSPB reserve, and then headed across the Solent at 14:00. He flew 62 miles (100 km) during the course of the afternoon, passing over Chichester and Arundel before roosting for the night in woodland east of Spithurst. Interestingly we received a report of a White-tailed Eagle near Brighton at 13:00 – so it is possible that G274 saw this second bird and flew across the Solent in response.  

Next morning G274 headed south over Barcombe Reservoir at 10:15 and then Arlington Reservoir at 11:30. He reached the coast west of Beachy Head an hour later, and the satellite data indicates he landed on the shore for a few minutes, just west of Birling Gap, before heading north again. He then spent over an hour perched on the Pevensey Levels, east of Hailsham between 13:10 and 14:30. He then headed north to roost in Jarvis’s Wood after a day’s flight of 58 km (36 miles).      

On the morning of 22nd June, G274 flew to the coast just east of Eastbourne and then continued east, skirting to the north of Hastings at 10:45. He was flying low over Rye Harbour Nature Reserve at 11:20 and then stopped just north of the reserve on East Guldeford Level, where he lingered for over four hours. Later in the afternoon G274 meandered further north, passing over Hemsted Forest east of Cranford at 16:50 and then heading east before roosting in woodland in Eastwell Park, just north of Ashford having flown 115 km (71 miles) during the course of the day.  

Next morning G274 headed south-west back to East Guldeford Level where he lingered the previous day. He set-off again at 11:45 and headed north-west along the Kent-Sussex border, almost as far as Bewl Water. He then paused in woodland just west of Stonegate for two-and-a-half hours before continuing further west before settling to roost in Great Home Wood to the east of Burgess Hill having flown 116 km (72 miles) through Kent and East Sussex. 

G274 was on the move again before 10:00 the next morning and flew directly over Burgess Hill between 10:20 and 10:30, flying at an altitude of 223 metres. He then spent the rest of the day in woodlands and fields just to the east of nearby Woodmancote. On 25th June G274 left Woodmancote shortly after 09:00 and headed purposefully south-west. He passed to the north of Worthing and Bognor Regis, generally flying at altitudes of between 200 and 400 metres, and by 11:10 was over the east part of Hayling Island at an altitude of 114 metres. He crossed the Solent soon afterwards and returned to his favoured haunts on the Isle of Wight having flown 85 km (53 miles) in two-and-a-half hours. He had covered a total of 490 km (305 miles) in six days. This was G274’s first major flight away from the Island since April, and it was quite reminiscent of another exploratory flight that he made around south-east England over four days between 1st and 4th April. Like his previous flights to the mainland, the young male’s return to the Isle of Wight, shows that he regards it as home. 

G274 flew 490 km (305) miles between 20-25 June

After his return to the Island G274 returned to many of his favourite haunts, but a notable change in his behaviour occurred in late July and early August. As soon as the first of this year’s cohort of young eagles were released G274 began to make daily visits to the release site, often perching with the young birds and occasionally taking fish left out for them. Young White-tailed Eagles are known to be communal early in their life, and that is evident in G274’s behaviour. This is extremely encouraging behaviour because this older bird will be an excellent role model for the juveniles. For example he has been seen catching and eating Cuttlefish within sight of several of the released juveniles on two occasions this week, and he catches Grey Mullet on an almost daily basis. It is going to be fascinating to see how G274 continues to interact with the released birds over the coming weeks and months. 


G324 was the most sedentary of the birds over the winter and spring. She made one six-day return flight to north Norfolk, but otherwise remained on the Isle of Wight throughout, spending much of her time with G274. Like the young male she was seen catching Grey Mullet in the estuaries around the coast of the Island. She seemed very settled, but then, quite unexpectedly given her previous behaviour, she made a 356-mile two-day flight to Northumberland at the beginning of June. She actually left the Island on 31st May, crossing the Solent to Lymington just before midday and then made fast progress north in a brisk south-easterly wind, passing to the west of Gloucester at 14:30 and then onwards through the West Midlands. She reached Cheshire just before 18:00, having flown 175 miles north from the Isle of Wight in seven hours of continuous flight. Next morning, she was on the move again soon after first light and by midday was already 78 miles north of her position the previous evening, passing just to the east of Morecambe Bay. She then turned to a more north-easterly heading and then crossed the Pennines into Northumberland. She continued flying north-east until around 19:00 when she settled to roost in woodland near the village of Akeld in the north-east of Northumberland National Park having flown a further 182 miles.  On 2nd June she made the short flight to the coast and spent the day around Fenham Flats. Next morning she remained in the local area until early afternoon, when she flew 23 miles south along the coast before settling for the night in woodland beside the River Coquet near Guyzance. On 4th June G324 left Guyzance just before 13:00 and flew 11 miles north-west to an area of scattered woodland near Callay. This is very reminiscent of areas she favoured on the Isle of Wight, and so it was perhaps no surprise that she remained in this area for the week, almost certainly feeding on rabbits. 

G324 flew 357 miles in two days to Northumberland, arriving on 1st June

On 11th June the young female flew a further 6 miles west and then spent the next two weeks in the Cheviot Hills. Interestingly this is close to an area where an Irish White-tailed Eagle summered last year, before returning to Ireland in the autumn. 

After a fortnight in the Cheviots, G324 headed 55 miles further north on 26th June and roosted in woodland close to the south shore of the Firth of Forth, just to the east of North Berwick. Next day she was seen near Dirleton by Andy Bevan and his family with a second bird that Andy thought may have been a second White-tailed Eagle. That night she roosted in farmland just south of the coast, before heading further south next day.  

She has remained in the Lammermuir Hills area since and even spent at least one day in the company of one of the young eagles released by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project. It is clear that, like the birds in the North York Moors, G324 has been predominantly feeding on rabbits during her stay in northern England and southern Scotland – preferring to spend her time in valleys on the edge of woods, rather than on the open moors.  It will be fascinating to see how long she remains there before heading back south.


In our last update we reported that having spent most of May at different sites in the North York Moors, male G393 and female G318 began spending time together from 27th. That pattern continued throughout June and early July, and apart from occasional days apart, the two birds were together for six weeks. They favoured one particular valley where rabbits are abundant and this excellent food supply probably explains why the two birds were so sedentary during this period.  

G318 (above) and G393 spent six weeks together in the North York Moors (photo by Simon Elliott)

From 8th July G393’s behaviour began to change, and he started to range more widely in the North York Moors, flying almost to the coast at East Row just north of Whitby on 11th. On 19th he made another flight to the coast, this time at Runswick Bay, before heading purposefully south. By 4:35pm he had flown 65 miles and stopped beside the River Derwent near Ellerton, 10 miles south-east of York. 

Next morning the young male continued south just before 10am, passing to the east of Doncaster an hour later. By 1pm he had flown 60 miles and was skirting around the east side of Newark-upon-Trent in Nottinghamshire, flying at an altitude of just under 500 metres. He continued flying for another half an hour and then stopped in woodland just south of Belvoir Castle in north-east Leicestershire. He then spent the afternoon in woodlands between Belvoir Castle and Knipton Reservoir.    

G393 flew south from the North York Moors to Belvoir in Leicestershire on 19th and 20th July

On the morning of 21st July G393 slowly made his way south through Leicestershire before roosting near Burrough on the Hill. He remained in east Leicestershire, close to the border with Rutland, for the next week, and during this period it was notable that he frequently landed on recently-harvested fields, where no doubt he was picking up carrion in much the same way as the local Red Kites.  

On 29th July G393 headed further south, passing Eyebrook Reservoir at 1pm and then continuing into Northamptonshire. He spent the afternoon around woodlands to the north-east of Kettering  and then, next day, completed a 50 mile circuit north-east as far as the east side of Peterborough, before returning south-west along the Nene Valley and roosting in woodland north of Thrapston. On 31st July G393 headed north back into Leicestershire.

G393 remained in the East Midlands from 21st July until the end of the month, during this period he regularly visited newly harvested fields, and roosted in quiet woods

After roosting in Owston Wood on the Leicestershire/Rutland border, G393 made the short flight east to Rutland Water on the morning of 1st August where he was seen by Tim Appleton, Penny Robinson and Chris Park. He lingered in the North Arm of the reservoir for an hour, a place he has visited twice before, before continuing east along the Hambleton Peninsula and then through the Rutland countryside into Northamptonshire and then Lincolnshire, passing over Tallington Lakes and then Baston and Langtoft Pits. He continued east through the fens and at 2pm reached the Wash at Guy’s Head. Twenty minutes later he was over Kings Lynn at an altitude of 300 metres. He then spent the rest of the afternoon at Roydon Common having flown 82 miles from Leicestershire.

G393 flew 82 miles to Roydon Common in west Norfolk on 1st August

On 2nd August G393 headed north-east to the North Norfolk coast, passing over Wells-next-the-Sea at 2:30pm and then spending the afternoon and all next day in the local area. On 4th August the young male spent the morning and the early afternoon on the marshes at Holkham NNR where he was seen by Jake Fiennes, Andy Bloomfield and the conservation team.  He was also photographed over Holkham beach by Charlie Murphy. G393 remained in the local area for the next few days and was photographed carrying a Wood Pigeon by Tim Smith near Burnham Thorpe on 5th August. It was clear the newly-harvested fields were again providing a good food source, just as had been the case during his stay in Leicestershire.  

On 6th August G393 followed the coast east to Holme-next-the-Sea and then south to Roydon Common. He then ranged between several wooded sites in West Norfolk until the morning of 18th, when he headed north-east back towards the north coast again. It will be interesting to see how long he remains in Norfolk. 

G393 and a Red Kite in North Norfolk on 5th August (photo by Tim Smith)


Female G318 first arrived in the North York Moors on 5th April and she has remained there since, despite G393’s departure in mid-July. Like her compatriot, G318 was extremely sedentary during June and the early part of July when the two birds spent most days in a favourite valley. During this period she was seen and photographed by a number of local residents and birdwatchers. The birds were observed catching and feeding on rabbits on a number of occasions.   

G318 has been present in the North York Moors since 5th April (photo by Bob Howe)

On 17th July it appeared that G318 may be returning south. At 12:45 that day she was almost 30 miles south of her favourite haunts in the North York Moors, but she returned north soon afterwards. Since then G318 has ranged more widely than previously and, on 6th August, she flew to the coast and spent two nights roosting in woodland along the course of Easington Beck near Loftus. Then, on the morning of 8th August, she was seen at Scaling Dam Reservoir by Martin Blick. She subsequently returned to a favourite valley in the North York Moors, but has again ranged more widely in recent days.     

It has been extremely exciting to follow the progress of the four young eagles over the course of the last year, and we are extremely grateful to everyone who has shared their sightings and photographs with us. These observations have helped us to build up a picture of how the young eagles live in the landscape. Fish, rabbit and carrion have been the main food items and the birds have favoured quiet wooded areas for perching. Although quite capable of flying in excess of 100 miles in a single day, the satellite data has shown they are often extremely sedentary for long periods, preferring to perch on the edge of woods where they sometimes go unnoticed for days on end. Although the four birds remain widely dispersed, this is quite normal for White-tailed Eagles at this young age, and we expect them all to follow the lead of G274 and head back towards the Isle of Wight and the South Coast as they approach breeding age. It will be fascinating to follow their progress over the next 12 months. 

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