EXPLORE EPISODE SEVEN - 16 to 13

Bringing to life spectacles of natural wonder on our doorstep

No.13
Hunting Sea Eagles

Sea Eagle c/o Iain Erskine

The Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) is the UK’s largest bird of prey and the fourth largest eagle in the world. The bird’s body can be nearly a metre long and its wingspan nearly two-and-a-half metres. They’re mainly brown in colour but have a pale head and a white tail. They’re also known as White Tailed Eagles.

They were once common in Scotland but because of persecution and changes to their habitats they faced extinction. Before the relatively recent reintroduction of the bird, the last recorded breeding pair in Scotland dated back to 1916.

A Sea Eagle’s eyes, beak and talons are bright yellow. They’re predominantly scavengers but will hunt seabirds, fish that swim near the surface of the water and rabbits and hares. When hunting fish the birds fly low over the water and hover briefly before snatching their prey. They’ll eat small prey, holding it in one foot, while flying but with larger prey they tend to use both feet to carry it somewhere they can perch and consume it.

Find out more about sea eagles...

The pictures in our photo gallery were taken by Iain Erskine, who is the official photographer of Sea Eagles on the Isle of Mull. Many of his photographs appear on the Mullbirds website.

Weblinks

RSPB

BBC Science and Nature

BBC Nature's Calendar

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Photo gallery

Watch and Listen

Janet Sumner watches as a gannet takes emergency measures to evade a hunting sea eagle:

Watch the video clip

Listen to the sound of Sea Eagles on the RSPB website:

Listen to the audio

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Tips

Tips for viewing this species:

  • A good time to watch Sea Eagles is in late May and early June. They will snatch fish thrown to them from the surface of the water. But possibly the best time to watch them is June/July/August when they have chicks to feed. If the nest fails, or they’re not breeding adults, they won’t put on as much of a display and will sit on a rocky ledge or a branch for hours on end doing very little.
  • Take your binoculars or a telescope.
  • Wear camouflage colours and hide behind a tree or foliage to blend into the background.
  • The UK's population of Sea Eagles are in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands and you can find advice about where exactly to go to watch them at the Forestry Commission website.
  • There are boat trips from Portree to see the area’s resident pair of eagles – but the nest failed in 2007 so opportunities were limited to see them fly.
  • Watch out for its white tail as it glides and flies at low levels with shallow flaps of its huge broad wings with the fingery feathers at the ends. At higher levels it will soar with its wings held flat.

Habitat

Sea Eagles are found across Europe. A programme to reintroduce them to Scotland started in 1975. An RSPB survey in 2007 estimated that there were about 200 of the birds living in Scotland with the main part of the population being on Skye, Mull and the Western Isles.

Sea Eagle c/o Iain Erskine

In 2007 the latest phase of the reintroduction programme saw some eagle chicks flown in from Norway for release at a secret location in Eastern Scotland.   

Sea Eagles like rocky coasts but will also live by remote areas of water further inland. They will follow fishing boats collecting food from the waste that’s thrown overboard.

In Scotland, unlike in Norway, Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles don’t co-exist in the same areas. It’s thought that changes to Scotland’s landcscape over the years (deforestation, increased agricultural use) has reduced its ability to support as many eagles.

Sea Eagles don’t normally start breeding until they’re five or six-years-old. In Scotland they spend the winter nest building and courting then the eggs are laid in March. The courtship display is spectacular and takes place in flight with the birds eventually locking claws and tumbling through the air before separating sometimes very close to the ground and flying upwards again.

Both birds build the nest together. The nests can grow very large as extra building material is added each time they’re reused year after year. Sea Eagles mate for life, although if one of a pair dies, the other one will look for a new mate. They have an average adult life span of 21 years.

Great Crested Grebe c/o rspb images Mike Langman

No. 16 - Courting Great Crested Grebes

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Best places to see - Lowland Britain and Ireland.

 

Dolphin

No. 15 - Pods of Dolphins

Find out where to see one of our most engaging mammals in the sea around the British Isles.

Best places to see - Moray Firth in Scotland, Cardigan Bay in Wales, Dorset and Cornwall coasts.

 

Hare c/o rspb images Chris Gomersall

No. 14 - Boxing Hares

Why do 'Mad March Hares' chase each other across the fields and appear to have 'boxing' matches?

Best places to see - Combinations of arable and grassland in England, Wales and Scotland.

 

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