DRAMATIC footage of a golden eagle trying to carry off a roe deer, three-and-a-half times its weight, has been captured on film for the first time at a sporting estate in Highland Perthshire.
The grainy 34 second film of the iconic bird of prey was taken by Menno Aukes, a tourist from Holland, while he was deer stalking on the snowy slopes of Clunes on the northern edge of the Atholl estates.
The footage shows the eagle swooping down on a roe deer hind and her calf and the mother bravely fending off repeated attempts by the eagle to grab the young calf before the raptor gives up and finally flies away.
Gamekeeper Ronnie Hepburn, who was with Mr Aukes at the time, said it was the first time he has seen such an attack in 35 years of stalking on the hills.
He said “I’ve seen them fly behind herds of red deer, but I’ve never actually seen them take a deer, though I have found deer that they’ve killed before. We are on the hill all day and I see eagles every day but that is the nearest I’ve seen to an eagle taking a kill before. Up here it would be grouse or hare they’d take normally.”
Andrew Bruce Wootton, the factor of the Atholl estates, said: “It is roe deer hind and roe deer calf that the eagle was attacking in an area of the estate not far south of the Inverness country boundary.
“The stalker and his guest were having lunch and they suddenly realised that this was happening. The guest had a mobile phone with him and the video footage isn’t the best quality unfortunately.
“But this was one of those unbelievably rare occasions where they were witnessing something that you will probably see only once in your lifetime and he fortunately had a mobile phone on him that was able to record the incident so that others could see it.”
He added: “It very rare and quite a privilege to see that happening. I think you could spend a couple of lifetimes on the hill and not see that with your naked eye.”
Mr Bruce Wootton continued: “There is documented evidence that golden eagles and sea eagles will take deer calves and take sheep and lambs. Whether or not, on this occasion, the golden eagle was just playing rather than looking definitely for a kill I don’t know.
“But obviously the mother is making quite a robust defence of her calf and maybe the mother’s efforts are what drove the eagle away.”
He added: “I have seen paintings and I have heard stories but I have never seen anything like this with my own eyes - not many people have. When we received a copy of the footage from the guest I knew it would have a fantastic public interest to it and asked out marketing people to put the footage on our Facebook page so it was there for people to see. “
An RSPB Scotland spokesman said: “Deer, especially smaller deer, are preyed on by golden eagles. As they can’t actually lift them up, these larger items are usually taken as carrion. However, it does also seem that younger, inexperienced birds don’t always yet know the limits of what an eagle can manage, and that is maybe what is happening here.”