Eagle project hit by death of at least one of its birds

The eagle that died. Photo: South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project
The eagle that died. Photo: South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project

Moves to boost the south of Scotland’s golden eagle population have been hit by a setback after one of the birds of prey released in the region killed another.

That mishap occurred after the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project let loose three young satellite-tagged male birds in August.

One of two female eagles released last year and given the name of Beaky had been about 10 miles from the release site but returned to it and was aggressive and domineering towards the young males, apparently treating the release area as her territory.

She appears to have killed at least one of the young males released and another is missing.

The third young male is safely secured in the aviary at the release area.

The dead bird is now undergoing a post-mortem investigation.

Des Thompson, one of the project’s directors, said: “This is distressing and extremely surprising.

“We have never heard of such incidents before despite having worked with eagle release projects in other parts of Europe.

“For the project team, and the estates that kindly allowed us to take these male eagle chicks, this is very difficult.

“Our project has been 11 years in the making because it is crucial to ensure everything possible is done to protect the health and wellbeing of these birds.

“Such projects are very challenging, and we are determined for this project to succeed, having involved the best experts in this field to do this, and will share what we learn with other similar projects.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, said: “This is an exceptional event and, while natural, incredibly upsetting.

“As the project is carefully monitored, this event has been witnessed at first hand.

“The project will continue despite this setback. However, we will thoroughly consider any future mitigation.”

Golden eagle expert Roy Dennis, a scientific adviser to the project, added: “In natural golden eagle populations, territorial breeding eagles will attack and kill intruding sub-adults trying to take their place, and, in the case of aged adults intruding sub-adults, may kill them.

“This is normal population behaviour, but for newly flying juveniles to be attacked by a one-year-old is totally unexpected.”

The project team is now monitoring the release site.

The remaining young golden eagle will be released at another site already identified after checks are made to ensure it is suitable.

Given that Beaky has evidently established a territory around the current release site, a new one will be secured for next year.