White-tailed sea eagle chicks have taken flight in Orkney for the first time in nearly 150 years.
The two birds that hatched in Hoy in May have successfully fledged, RSPB Scotland announced yesterday.
The discovery was made by two RSPB Scotland volunteers, Katharine Stark and Janet Yeung, when they spotted both chicks in flight as they arrived in Hoy for an “Eaglewatch” event on Wednesday – an arrangement that has been running every day to help locals and visitors enjoy seeing the birds.
Ms Stark said: “It was magnificent to see the eagles soaring through the sky, especially knowing how long it has been since the last time. We spoke to lots of locals and tourists throughout the day and everyone was thrilled. There has been a nervous excitement in the air since the chicks hatched but now we can all breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate.”
This remarkable conservation success story is made even more special as 2018 marks the 100th anniversary since white-tailed eagles became extinct in the UK when the last known bird was shot in Shetland in 1918. Two formal reintroductions, releasing a total of 140 birds, were carried out on Rum (1975-1985) and Wester Ross (1993-1998).
They first bred successfully on Mull in 1985 and have since gone on to establish an increasing breeding population on the West Coast of Scotland. A third re-introduction phase of 85 of birds on the East Coast of Scotland between 2007 and 2012, aimed to help make the Scottish sea eagle population stronger, and allow them to re-establish across the country much sooner.
In 2013, white-tailed eagles bred in east Scotland for the first time in 200 years.
White-tailed eagles recolonised Orkney naturally in 2013. However, it is unknown whether the pair have spread from the Scottish mainland or are of Scandinavian origin. Experts say this range expansion is a significant step forward in this already remarkable conservation success.
There are now more than 100 breeding pairs of the creatures, the UK’s largest birds of prey, in Scotland.
Although white-tailed eagles have bred successfully and broadened their range, they were absent from Orkney until an adult pair first appeared in 2013. It is not known whether the Hoy birds came from the Scottish mainland or if they travelled from Scandinavia. Their arrival led to unsuccessful breeding attempts in 2015 and 2016, before the pair abandoned the territory in 2017.
However, the female returned this year with a new, younger male.