White-tailed eagle

Haliaeetus albicilla

70-90cm

Appearance

Larger and longer-winged than the Golden Eagle, this bird has wide, plank-like wings with fingered tips, and a short, white, wedged tail. The sexes are similar, though females are slightly larger and darker, their bills a bit bigger. Plumage is predominately brown, though the head and neck are paler than the torso; legs and bill are yellow. The white tail may be hard to see when the bird is stationary. Juvenile birds are darker than adults and are without the white tail.

Habitat

The coast of Scotland and Ireland sees small breeding numbers. Large lakes and the rocky shores of oceans are typical habitats.

Character

This is an agile bird who can fish and catch waterbirds while flying low over water. It flies with shallow movements of the wings, and glides low and high, its wings flatter when it's at altitude. May be seen in solitude or in pairs; late winter and early spring sees courtship display of dancing in the sky, where birds roll in the air and may also link talons. They may spend long periods stationary, perhaps perched or standing on the ground.

Food

Eats waterbirds and fish, which it may dive into the sea to get. May hunt in teams of two or alone, and sometimes thieves the prey of other birds. Diet includes carrion, cod, herring, trout and eels, gulls, ducks and auks, rabbits, hares and other mammals. Will also scavenge from fishing boats and abattoirs.

Breeding

Usually nests in trees or cliff ledges, and occasionally on the ground; some nests are used for several years, and they grow as debris is added to them each season. In late March or April, the female usually lays 2 eggs which she incubates for 40 days. Both parents feed the hatchlings, who can fly after 70 days, and roam quite widely once independent.

Population

The birds of the region are mostly resident, though a few birds from Northern Europe may arrive in the east of Britain. The species was severely diminished, and recent reintroduction to Scotland has resulted in a population increase; there are now more than 50 pairs.

Observation Tips

Due to the importance and fragility of the breeding programs, information about the exact location of breeding grounds is not available, and attempt to observe breeding birds are not advised. The Inner Hebridean islands such as Mull or Islay, may provide unobtrusive viewing opportunities, however be sure to search for perched birds as well as birds in flight.

Voice

Utters a high-pitched 'kew, kew, kew, kew' when close to nest or in courtship. Also has a loud, melancholy whistle call.
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