Spectacular Sea Eagles on the Isle of Skye
Considered to be a close cousin of the North American Bald Eagle, the White-tailed Eagle, or Sea Eagle, is one of the largest birds of prey found in Scotland and is the fourth largest bird of prey in the world with their average wingspan (2.18m/7.2ft) being the largest of any eagle. Sometimes referred to as ‘flying barn doors’ due to their size, Sea Eagles were eradicated from the United Kingdom over a century ago as they posed a threat to livestock and were notorious for capturing sheep and carrying them away. In recent years the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been instrumental in reintroducing the species, bringing birds from Norway to Scotland. There are reportedly 57 breeding pairs in Scotland at present, with 12 of these pairs resident on the Isle of Skye, where they are a popular attraction.
Tour boats leave from the charming town of Portree, with its colorfully painted houses hugging the shore, heading for the cliffs overlooking the strait of Little Minch, separating Skye from the lower Outer Hebrides. From the boat visitors have a spectacular view of the cliffs which are home to the Sea Eagles. The skipper of the boat may throw large fish up into the air over the water to encourage the birds to demonstrate their amazing abilities of flight, but this is not always necessary as the Sea Eagles are often seen gliding on the thermals, where they can remain for hours with very little effort. Visitors on the tour boats also have a good chance of seeing dolphins and minke whales in the waters during the summer months.
The Sea Eagle is an opportunistic hunter and its diet varies according to season and availability. They eat fish, mammals and other birds, and are also known to pirate food from other animals and scavenge – particularly in the winter months. In Scotland, Sea Eagles often compete with Golden Eagles for prey such as rabbits and hares, which is different from their observed behavior in Norway where both eagle species exist in larger numbers.
While conservationists and birding enthusiasts may be pleased with the reintroduction of Sea Eagles to Scotland, not everyone is thrilled with the idea. Concerns have been raised over the safety of the livestock on the Isle of Skye and conservation officers liaise with farmers in this regard. Eggs being stolen from nests is also a problem, and for this reason the whereabouts of nests are kept secret where possible. There are often issues when man encroaches on the habitat of animals, but thanks to conservation efforts these issues are being addressed, and visitors to the Isle of Skye no doubt agree that a Sea Eagle in flight is an impressive and unforgettable sight well worth preserving for future generations.