Golden eagle is our national bird

THE search to find a new emblem for Scotland in the form of a National Bird has been won by the golden eagle, the results of The Scotsman’s poll confirm.

Ballots for the UK’s second biggest raptor to become the country’s newest national icon outstripped its nearest rival by 88 votes.

However, the poll was nearly rendered void after executives from the Famous Grouse whisky company sent out an e-mail encouraging people to vote for their company emblem.

More than 1,200 ballots had to be discounted after the sudden surge in response for the popular game bird prompted by the company’s intervention during the final 36 hours of the voting period.

Until that point, the golden eagle - championed by Tory MSP and keen birdwatcher Annabel Goldie - had been the clear leader throughout the poll. The red grouse, supported by Scottish rugby captain Chris Paterson, came second, followed by the capercaillie, the osprey and the puffin.

With the backing of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland (RSPB), The Scotsman will now prepare a petition to be submitted to the Scottish Parliament calling for the golden eagle to be officially recognised as our National Bird.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "The golden eagle is a very fitting species indeed to represent Scotland as a new national icon. Unfortunately there are no longer any breeding pairs in the rest of the UK, but in Scotland we have about 430 pairs.

"I think it captures a lot of what Scotland is about for so many visitors who come here: a beautiful big bird that soars at the head of the glens and heather-clad hills. No matter how many times you have seen one, the experience of witnessing this beautiful majestic species is never the less remarkable. It takes your breath away."

He added: "We literally get hundreds upon hundreds of inquiries from people coming to Scotland each year, the majority of them asking where they can see the golden eagle. It thoroughly captures the essence of what Scotland is about, and will hopefully serve to raise the profile of our stunning natural environment and the importance of conserving it and all its wonderful species for future generations."

Annabel Goldie MSP, who "championed" the golden eagle in the poll, last night said she was delighted by its success.

She added: "I said in my piece that the golden eagle doesn’t deserve to be our national bird, it has an irrefutable entitlement. It is wonderful news that Scotland agrees."

Despite the marked increase in the number of golden eagles in the Hebrides, Scotland’s overall population of this majestic bird has remained almost unchanged in 11 years, according to the latest RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and Scottish Raptor Study Groups (SRSG) survey. However, golden eagles still face several threats, mainly from deliberate persecution.

The breeding population of golden eagles was an estimated 422 pairs in 1993. The most recent survey, from January through to late July 2003, revealed that the UK population is now up to 431 pairs.

However, the overall figure conceals decreases in several areas - although RSPB head of research in Scotland, Dr Jerry Wilson, is positive about helping the eagles continue their success north of the Border.

He said: "In the Hebrides, the current population of 147 pairs is up nearly 20 per cent on the 1992 figure. This substantial increase - more than 20 additional pairs recorded in 2003 - illustrates the growing national and international importance of these islands for golden eagles. It is heartening that these figures are up in some areas where the birds had been subject to persecution in the past. In contrast, continued declines in eagle numbers in parts of mainland Scotland are worrying."

Dr Jeff Watson, an author and ornithologist who has studied golden eagles in Scotland for more than 20 years eloquently summarised the situation: "We have a special responsibility to protect this magnificent and iconic bird that is forever a symbol of our wild landscapes."

Following the submission of a petition calling for the golden eagle to be officially recognised by the Scottish Parliament as our national bird, it will be considered by the petitions committee.

The committee can then decide what action to take, which may include tabling a debate in parliament or putting forward a motion to act on the petition’s request. If enough MSPs agree, the golden eagle will then be adopted as Scotland’s National Bird.

Allan Wilson, deputy environment minister, said: "The richness of our environment and the diversity of life it supports made the selection of a national bird for Scotland a difficult choice.

"The golden eagle is a majestic and proud bird. If the people of Scotland had to choose a bird that represented the pride and confidence of a devolved Scotland, I am sure that the golden eagle would be their preference. This poll clearly suggests the golden eagle is the people’s choice."

FINAL RESULT

1 GOLDEN EAGLE

2 RED GROUSE

3 CAPERCAILLIE

4 OSPREY

5 PUFFIN

6 GANNET

7 SEA EAGLE

8 PEREGRINE FALCON

9 CRESTED TIT

10 PEEWIT

11 SCOTTISH CROSSBILL

12 PTARMIGAN

Ups and downs of UK's bird life

ONLY six bird species in Scotland have declined significantly since 1994, while the populations of 14 species rose by more than 50 per cent, according to a report published yesterday,

The biggest loser in Scotland was the swift: down 78 per cent since 1994. Lapwing, curlew, hooded crow, siskin and kestrel populations also fell 25-50 per cent

However, increases of more than 50 per cent have been recorded for grey heron, buzzard, house martin, wren, mistle thrush, whitethroat, goldcrest, blue tit, great tit, magpie, raven, rook, house sparrow and goldfinch.

Throughout the UK, 26 of 212 species have declined significantly since 1994, while populations of 44 species have shot up dramatically.

The biggest decline across Britain is that of the wood warbler. "A 68 per cent drop in just nine years is of great concern," said the joint report by the British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

But, strangely, wood warbler numbers have actually increased in Scotland, while falling dramatically in England and Wales. Likewise, mistle thrush, rook and house sparrow increased significantly north of the border while showing a downward trend in England.

Magpie numbers increased by 59 per cent in Scotland, while in England there was little change. Cuckoo, skylark, starling, lesser redpoll and linnet all showed a downward trend in England, while appearing stable in Scotland. Most commonly seen across the UK in 2003 were the wren, closely followed by blackbird, chaffinch and wood pigeon.

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