Golden Eagles soar above the Isles’ rugged and wild landscapes

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Is there a more iconic bird than the Golden Eagle? Synonymous with rugged and wild landscapes it is surely the highlight of a visit to the Isles.

We are extremely lucky on the Outer Hebrides, one does not have to travel far to catch a glimpse of this amazing aerial predator.

I see them often deep in the glens and hills of Harris or the Lewis Moors, but I have also see them from my living room window and from the car as I am driving about.

Work is currently underway across the Islands and the Scottish mainland to determine the number of breeding pairs of Golden Eagle.

In the last national survey undertaken in 2003, Scotland supported the entire UK population of 442 pairs (except for 1 lonely male in the English Lake District). Eighty-one pairs, just under one fifth of the population, were found here on the Western Isles.

The 2015 survey started in January and will be completed by July. This is a huge task with some 600 historical territories across the country being checked for signs of occupancy.

The work is undertaken by RSPB staff along with some dedicated local volunteers. First visits to all known territories have been completed and we are delighted to report that initial figures show our Western isles population now looks to number over 90 pairs.

It is a perilous journey from egg laying to fledging eagle chicks, a process that takes 16-17 weeks in total, so further visits are made to establish how successful each pair is.

It is quite common for birds to fail to breed and we have had a miserable late winter and spring so far. Eggs are being incubated in wind and rain and hunting for food can be tricky. .

The work is detailed. For each pair we aim to locate the nest site in use this year and each pair typically has up to five or six alternative sites to choose from.

Some pairs have occupied territories for years and can establish up to 13 different nest sites.

The eagle’s season starts in the winter, re-establishing their territory and topping up the chosen nest site with heather.

By now eggs have been laid and we are expecting the first chicks to hatch by the end of April. It is also tough work for the eagle surveyors. They have been walking and watching eagles in rain, wind, hail, snow and very occasionally sun!!

This is the fourth full national survey since the first in 1982. Between 1993 and 2003 numbers remained stable.

However, it is noticeable that regionally the trends vary. There may be an increase here, but in the east of the country there have been declines. These birds still face considerable threats in terms of food supply, loss of habitat, development and wildlife crime.

By the time of our next wildlife update in May, another Western Isles speciality bird will have hopefully started to arrive back.

As I write, our corncrakes are on migration from their wintering grounds in East Africa.

For those of you who usually have a corncrake close to the house, don’t forget to add “earplugs” to your shopping list this month!