Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A great year for our white tailed eagles at Mull Eagle Watch

White tailed eagle
After a fantastic season the Eagle viewing hide at Glen Seilisdeir is now closed. Iona and Fingal successfully fledged two chicks, and the family can still be seen in the area.
However, there are still plenty of opportunities to view White Tailed Eagles around the island. The eagles don’t migrate and can be seen hunting for fish and seabirds over the lochs and sea, as well as looking for rabbits or hares inland. During the autumn the young birds tend to congregate together, sitting in trees or on the ground near to the coastline, whilst the adult birds will stay in and around their home territory.

Mull is not known as “Eagle Island” for nothing, and hosts one of the highest density populations of Golden Eagles in Europe, although these shy birds are more difficult to see as they keep well away from people.

If you are struggling to tell the difference between the two species, the adult White Tailed Eagle (the fourth largest eagle in the world) has a wingspan of 2.4 metres, stands about a metre high and weighs in at 7 kilos. It is a light brown colour with a paler head. When flying its broad wings are held in a flat profile and the adult’s white tail is short and wedge-shaped, leading to it being referred to as a “flying barn door”. The juvenile eagles are a dark, chocolate brown colour all over and don’t have the white tail initially, with those feathers moulting in over the next four or five years until it is ready to breed.

By comparison the Golden Eagle has a wingspan of around 2 metres and is a golden brown all over. It holds its wings in a shallow V-shape when flying, and is often seen flying high over the hills “hugging” the ridges whilst it searches for prey. Its tail is rectangular in shape and longer than the Sea Eagles. Juvenile Golden Eagles have white patches under its wings and a white rump at the top of its tail. They feed mostly on mammals and birds but are much more difficult to see than the White Tailed Eagles which are often seen perched in trees or on rocks.

If you see a large brown and cream raptor hanging in the sky (as if hovering) it will not be an eagle. Buzzards and Hen Harriers do this, but the eagles’ body weight is too high for their wings to support hovering.

The eagle hide will remain closed during the winter months whilst this year’s youngsters gradually moving away from their parents and, come December, the adult birds will start looking for nest sites or maybe adding to existing ones. Come February their courtship rituals will begin and by March they will be ready to start nesting. The birds are heavily protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and at this time they are very sensitive to disturbance.

Watch this space for information on where and when the 2013 hide will be opening or visit our web pages.

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