From early May the volunteers monitoring the Mountshannon eagle pair feared that the nest had failed. The birds continued to sit on the nest there was no sign of chick activity or indeed food being brought into the nest. The news became public on May 25th with the publication of this press release issued by Dr Allan Mee of The Golden Eagle Trust.
Sea Eagles nesting in four counties: Press release 22 May 2016
White-tailed Sea Eagles (Sea eagles) have nested in four counties in the Republic of Ireland in 2016 with chicks successfully hatched in Cork, Kerry and Galway. Eight pairs of Sea Eagles laid eggs and five pairs hatched chicks in April and May this year. However, most disappointingly one of these pairs has now been confirmed as failed having lost their chicks in the first two weeks after hatching. A second pair failed to hatch its eggs and both pairs are strongly suspected to have failed due to human disturbance at the nest site.
The Mountshannon pair of Sea eagles has successfully reared chicks over the last three years but has failed to hatch its eggs in 2016. The pair was still sitting on eggs this week, three weeks after the expected hatch date. Disturbance at the nest at some stage during incubation is likely to have caused the eggs to become chilled leading to the death of the embryo. While the adults continue to sit on the eggs they will likely desert any day. Wilful and deliberate disturbance is not only detrimental to nesting birds but is illegal under the Wildlife Act (1976 & 2000).
Sea Eagles have nested in Killarney since 2013 and successfully fledged their first chick in 2015. However the nesting pair relocated to a new nest in 2016 after their old nest blew down in one of the many winter storms. This pair hatched around or before 12 May but despite great support from local anglers the nesting attempt has apparently failed. While the adults were still present near the nest this week it is likely that disturbance at this site caused the parents to leave the nest and chicks unguarded long enough for avian predators (crows) to enter the nest and predate the chick/s. Thus it appears that in both cases undue human interest in the nest site has led to nest failure. In 2014 another nest site in Co. Galway failed to hatch eggs after a series of human disturbance events at that site. Happily with the cooperation of the local angling community and vigilance this site was successful in 2015 and again in 2016 has reared two chicks. Two other nesting pairs, in west Cork and south Kerry have also hatched chicks that, it is hoped, should fledge successfully in July..
“While these successes bode well for the successful reintroduction of the Sea Eagle to Ireland and are critical in establishing a first generation of Irish-bred Sea Eagles, the apparent failure of two nests due to human disturbance is a blow to the project” Dr. Allan Mee, Project Manager of the Irish White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction commented. “Each pair faces a whole set of natural difficulties they have to overcome to successfully nest and rear chicks such as bad weather, finding enough food for chicks etc, but the added pressure caused by human disturbance is something the species could really do without at this critical stage. It is especially disappointing to see nest sites named explicitly in the national media. While people are rightly thrilled to see these incredible birds in the wild we strongly advise people not to approach nest sites at any stage. Not only is this detrimental to the birds breeding success it is of course illegal if the disturbance is deliberate. Anyone who wants to see Sea Eagles can safely do so without causing disturbance by visiting the public Viewing and Information Point at Mountshannon, Co. Clare, which is now open for the summer and managed by the local community. Eagles can also often been seen on the Gap boat trips to Lord Brandon’s Cottage where boatmen are keen to point out the birds”.
Likewise Frank McMahon, District Conservation Officer with the National Parks & Wildlife Service based at Killarney National Park, also called on members of the public to give the birds the chance they need to nest successfully. “While we understand the huge interest that the Sea Eagles have generated in places like Killarney and Mountshannon, we would ask the public to work with us to make the reintroduction a success by not disturbing birds at or near nest sites. We would especially caution against unlicenced photographers visiting nest sites to photograph the birds and remind people that a licence is required to photograph or film birds at the nest. Deliberately causing disturbance at nests for photography or any other reason is illegal except in exceptional circumstances under licence. It has been disappointing to see the Killarney pair apparently fail this year having hatched chicks. Cooperation with the local fishermen and other boatmen on the lakes has been excellent and we cannot fault the effort of the anglers in trying to keep the nest site free from disturbance. It’s just such a shame it hasn’t worked out successfully for the birds this year.”
Sea Eagles fledged four chicks from nests in Clare, Galway and Kerry in 2015. Three chicks fledged successfully from one nest in Clare in 2013 (2) and 2014 (1). Thus the five remaining chicks at the four successful nests in Cork, Kerry and Galway bear the future hopes of the project in re-establishing this iconic eagle species in Ireland.