A total of six white-tailed eagle chicks successfully fledged from five nests in three different counties in 2016, making this the most successful year to date in the long-term reintroduction programme for this iconic bird of prey in Ireland.
Eight pairs of white-tailed eagle attempted to breed and successfully laid eggs in 2016 and five pairs managed to rear chicks successfully.
“Real progress” as more eagles take flight
The reintroduction programme, which began in 2007 with the release of 100 young Norwegian eagles in Killarney National Park in Co. Kerry, has shown real signs of progress over recent years. Since the first successful breeding attempt on Lough Derg near Mountshannon, Co. Clare in 2013 13 white-tailed eagle chicks have fledged successfully in the wild in Ireland.
This year young birds fledged in Co. Galway, Co. Kerry and Co. Cork. Perhaps the most significant of those was the successful rearing of a chick by the eagle pair at Glengarriff, Co. Cork — the first Irish-born eagle to take to the skies of the county in more than 120 years. Unfortunately the long-established pair at Mountshannon, Co. Clare that have successfully fledged chicks every year since their first breeding attempt in 2013, failed to hatch their eggs this year. However the Golden Eagle Trust (which manages the White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction Programme in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs) is confident Ireland’s most experienced eagle parents will bounce back to have a successful breeding season in 2017.
While the trust describes the increase in the number of pairs raising young successfully as “encouraging”, it stresses that there’s still some way to go before they achieve their ultimate goal of a viable, self-sustaining wild breeding population of white-tailed eagles. Over the coming years the trust is hoping that the small core breeding population will increase to consistently fledge 10 or more chicks annually.
Third-time-lucky for Cork eagles
“We are thrilled that the pair of white-tailed sea eagles in Glengarriff has finally managed to fledge a chick. It’s been a long wait, not just for Co Cork, but the pair themselves” said local NPWS Conservation Ranger, Clare Heardman.
“This is third time lucky, as they very sadly lost a young chick in 2014 and then an almost fully grown chick last year after it swallowed some crow feathers. Things didn’t go smoothly this year either as their chick grew slowly and took much longer to leave the nest than would be expected. However, he’s been flying around the bay for six weeks now and looking strong. His parents are still feeding him but before the year is out he’ll become independent and leave the area.
“The local community, especially the harbours’ ferrymen, have taken this young eagle to heart, so they’ll be sad to see him go. However, we look forward to hearing reports of him from around the country as he goes on his travels and eventually finds a mate and his own territory to settle in.”
Signs are good for viable Irish eagle population
“It’s fantastic to see another six Irish-bred White-tailed Eagle chicks fly from nests in Ireland this year”, said Dr. Allan Mee, project manager for the Golden Eagle Trust. “These young eagles represent the first of what we hope are many more Irish bred White-tailed Eagles to fledge from nests over the next few years to form the basis of a viable self-sustaining Irish population. The signs are good that we can achieve this with eight or more pairs likely to breed annually over the next few years.
“While there is still a lot of hard work to be done to achieve this goal we should savour this day as a really important milestone in the recovery of this iconic species. Eagles are now nesting again in some of our most iconic scenic and cultural landscapes such as near Holy Island (Inis Cealtra) on Lough Derg, the Killarney lakes, Glengarriff and on the western tip of the Iveragh peninsula in Kerry, where they wou, ald have nested in historical times, perhaps even on the same islands used back in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s wonderful to see these birds back where they belong, nesting and rearing chicks.”
Despite setbacks along the way the reintroduction programme has established a solid breeding foundation and the Golden Eagle Trust is hopeful that it will continue to grow as more young birds pair up and attempt to breed around the country. The next big milestone will be when Irish bred youngsters pair up and successfully rear Irish bred chicks (it takes about five years for a white-tailed eagle to reach maturity and be ready to breed). Although everyone involved is looking forward to that day, the reality is that chicks produced by the original “Norwegian” birds released in Killarney are likely to form the core of the Irish population for many years to come.
Local support fundamental to eagles’ success
The Golden Eagle Trust and National Parks & Wildlife Service expresses its gratitude to the many individuals, volunteers, landowners, fishermen, ferrymen and boating enthusiasts for their support and protection of territorial eagles from Galway to Cork. An excellent Viewing & Information Point was again provided at Mountshannon thanks to funding from Clare County Council with visitors coming to see the local White-tailed Eagle pair. Sadly, for this site the pair failed early in the breeding season which made viewing the birds more difficult but it is highly likely the pair will be back nesting successfully in 2017. Eagles are also attracting many visitors to the Lakes of Killarney, the Iveragh and Beara peninsulas, West Cork and other parts of the west coast where they are now established, enhancing the biodiversity and natural attraction of some of our most iconic landscapes.
Breeding Eagles — the vital statistics
- Over the past six years White-tailed Sea Eagles have dispersed throughout Ireland and beyond. Many eagles have been reported from Northern Ireland and at least six birds have travelled to Scotland.
- In 2016 nine White-tailed Eagle pairs held territory in Ireland across four counties: Kerry (6 pairs), Galway (1), Clare (1) and Cork (1).
- Eight pairs laid eggs in Kerry (5), Cork (1), Clare (1) and Galway (1).
- Two breeding ‘pairs’ in Kerry consisted of trios: a male and two females at one site on the Iveragh peninsula, and a female and two males at another site on the Beara peninsula.
- 13 Irish-bred White-tailed Eagle chicks have fledged to date: 2 in 2013, 1 in 2014, 4 in 2015 and 6 in 2016.
- Historically, the White-tailed Sea Eagle was once a conspicuous part of the Irish landscape, before it was driven to extinction in the early 20th century by human persecution.