White-tailed Eagle update – summer 2022

We are now in the fourth year of the project we run in partnership with Forestry England to reintroduce White-tailed Eagles to southern England, through the translocation of Scottish chicks to the Isle of Wight. Early signs have been encouraging with two pairs forming, and other young eagles learning to live successfully in the English landscape. 

Early pair bonding 

Two of the birds released in 2019, male G274 and female G324, are now well-established as a pair on the Isle of Wight, as project officer Steve Egerton-Read described in his latest Forestry England blog. Steve has dedicated a huge amount of time to monitoring the birds in the field and this has provided an extremely valuable insight into their daily foraging habits and diet. We have been particularly encouraged that they have been catching fish around the coasts of the Isle of Wight throughout the year, and that they readily catch cuttlefish in the seagrass beds of the Solent. This rich local food supply will be extremely valuable when the first pairs begin breeding. Elsewhere a second pair have become established in West Sussex. Male G471 and female G405, both released in 2020, have been favouring the Arun valley and surrounding areas, and the male also makes regular trips to the coast. 

We have also been extremely encouraged that one of the 2021 females, G801, has taken up almost permanent residence at Poole Harbour since her arrival there, in early March. Recently G801 has been joined by two different males: G816, who has been summering in Wiltshire, and G812 who spent much of the winter and spring in north Dorset. The proximity of Poole Harbour to the Isle of Wight, coupled with the rich food supply, including fish such as Grey Mullet and Bass, make this another potential early breeding site. Although most White-tailed Eagles do not breed until they are five years old, the satellite data demonstrates that pairs can form much earlier, and we are hopeful that one of these visiting males will settle at Poole Harbour with G801. 

G812 is the most recent White-tailed Eagle to visit Poole Harbour (photo by Jamie Randall)
G801 and G812 at Poole Harbour (photo by Paul Morton)

Returning to favoured sitesĀ 

Some of the younger birds dispersed widely in the spring and five individuals are currently in northern Scotland. 2021 females G818 and G487 are in the Cairngorms and two other females released last summer, have been spending time further north. G542 is currently in Caithness and G547 is living around Cape Wrath and other locations on the Sutherland coast. The fifth bird is 2020 female G466 who has returned to northern Scotland for a second summer. She spent much of 2021 in Caithness and Sutherland before flying south in February this year and then spending two months back on the Isle of Wight. She headed north again in mid-April and is now back in the Caithness having spent much of the past few weeks in and around Cape Wrath. The map below shows her 2021 (yellow) and 2022 movements (white). 

G466’s movements in northern Scotland during 2021 (yellow) and 2022 (white)

Another bird that has returned to an area that it visited last spring, is G463. This male released in 2020 crossed the English Channel in April 2021 and remained in mainland Europe until November, favouring the Wadden Sea coasts of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. He visited several locations in southern England during the winter, before spending the early part of the spring in East Anglia, returning to sites he first visited 12 months earlier. Then on 3rd April he crossed the English Channel in the same location as 2021, but three days earlier. He has since returned to many of the sites he visited in 2021, with one notable exception: a short excursion to southern Sweden between 28th April and 1st May. The map below shows how faithful G463 has been to sites he first visited last year (2021 = yellow, 2022 = white). He is currently heading south-west through Germany, and so may return to the areas she previously visited in the Netherlands, or perhaps return across the English Channel once again. 

G463’s movements in mainland Europe during 2021 (yellow) and 2022 (white)

Like the two 2020 birds, G318 has also returned to a previous haunt. The 2019 female wintered in Dorset, but then flew north to the Peak District on 16th May and has returned to the moors in the Dark Peak that she frequented for more than two months last summer. This bird has been a lagomorph specialist since release and it seems that Mountain Hares could be the reason she has returned to this particular area. 

The fact that three birds have returned to sites that they first encountered on their initial explorations, illustrates the superb navigational capacity of the young eagles, and the value of the initial wanderings and the associated knowledge they assimilate about the landscape.  

G318 has returned to the Peak District for a second successive summer (photo by Nick Corley)

2022 translocation cancelled 

During June we were intending to translocate the next cohort of chicks to the Isle of Wight. However, the worsening situation with Avian Influenza which has resulted in major mortality of breeding seabirds around eastern and northern coasts of the UK, and poses a considerable risk to White-tailed Eagles – which can contract the virus by eating infected carcasses – meant that we felt the most responsible approach was to not translocate any chicks this year, particularly as fieldwork indicates it is a poor breeding year for White-tailed Eagles. We have informed NatureScot and Natural England of this decision, and hope to extend the licence to account for the missed year. The original licence permits us to release a total of 60 White-tailed Eagles over the course of five years with the aim of establishing an initial population of six to eight breeding pairs on the Isle of Wight and surrounding areas of the South Coast. 

In the meantime, we will continue to closely monitor the birds released in previous years, particularly in relation to their foraging behaviour, daily movements and how they are living in the landscape. We have also constructed two artificial nests to encourage early breeding behaviour.  

Thank you

Sincere thanks to everyone who has been in touch to report sightings or sent photos of eagles in their local area. This information is of real value and adds to our understanding of how the birds are living in the landscape. You can report any sightings using our online form. We have been thrilled at the excitement the birds have generated in different parts of the country, and greatly appreciate the support the project has received.  

Very many thanks to everyone who has made donations to the Foundation and the White-tailed Eagle project in the past few months. Your support is greatly appreciated. If you would like to donate to our work, then you can do so via the link below.