A young eagle at a reintroduction site in the South of Scotland has been attacked by another eagle in behaviour not observed before.
The South Scotland Golden Eagle Project is reinforcing the golden eagle population in South Scotland. In early August, three young satellite-tagged male eagles were released.
This followed the highly successful practices adopted last year and in other eagle release projects.
One of two female eagles released last year (Beaky) who had been about ten miles from the release site, returned to it and was seen to be aggressive and domineering towards the young males. She immediately began treating the release area as her territory, which is exceptional for such a young bird.
It appears Beaky caused the death of one of the released young males (which is now undergoing a detailed, post-mortem investigation) and another young male is missing nearby.
The third young male is safely secured in the aviary at the release area.
One of the Project Directors, SNH’s Professor Des Thompson, commented: “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 which 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 RSPB 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 monitoring the release site carefully. The remaining young golden eagle will be released at another site which has already been identified, after precautions to ensure it is suitable.
The project works closely with experts at the Edinburgh University Royal Dick Vet School, which have been closely involved in all stages of the release programme to support the monitoring of the eagles’ health and welfare.
Given that Beaky has evidently established a territory around the release site, a new release site will be secured for next year. The location of the release area is not publicised, and relies on an excellent and close relationship with the landowner.
The Project Chair, Mark Oddy, commented: “This is a really difficult time for the project team and the many supporters in local schools and the wider communities – who have been fantastically supportive. This incident is completely unexpected which makes this all the more difficult. We are doing everything we can to ensure the remaining eagle is fit and well.”
Before the project began, there was only between two and four pairs of golden eagle across Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders, however a supporting study by Scottish Natural Heritage shows that the local habitat is suitable for up to 16 pairs.