by Dr. Allan Mee
White-tailed Eagles have successfully hatched chicks in Ireland for the first time in over 110 years. In the last week a pair was confirmed to have hatched chicks at a nest near Mountshannon, Co Clare. This pair also created history in 2012 when they nested for the first time. A second pair, in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry, successfully hatched chicks in the past few days having laid eggs in late March. These are the first chicks of the high profile reintroduction programme which began in 2007 with the release of young Norwegian eagles in Killarney National Park as part of the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction programme developed and funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in partnership with Golden Eagle Trust.
Nesting began in late March with pairs laying eggs in nests in Clare and Killarney. The Mountshannon breeding pair, a five year old male and four year old female, was collected on the island of Frøya off the west coast of Norway. This pair laid eggs in 2012 but failed to hatch chicks. However by January 2013 had already built a new nest. The Killarney breeding pair, a six year old female and five year old male, was collected on islands in Flatanger and Hitra, Norway, in 2007 and 2008. The Killarney female spent part of the winter in early 2009 in the Scottish Highlands before returning to Kerry. All birds were released in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry, as part of the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction programme. Several pairs have now established themselves in counties Kerry, Cork, Clare and Galway at coastal and inland lake sites.
The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan T.D. said “This is a momentous occasion in that we are now witnessing the first white-tailed eagles born in the wild in Ireland in over 100 years.”
“We are delighted that White-tailed Eagles are now nesting successfully in Clare and Kerry”, said Dr. Allan Mee, project manager for the Golden Eagle Trust. “Last years’ nesting attempt by the Clare pair was a momentous event for the species recovery in Ireland. However, the species has now taken the next important step by producing the first chicks on the reintroduction programme. This is another milestone for the project as producing and fledging chicks in nests in Ireland is critical for the projects’ success. Ultimately the viability of the reintroduced programme depends on these chicks going on to breed themselves in Ireland. Each step brings us closer to that goal. Many people have helped us reach this goal over the years. We especially wish to thank local communities in Mountshannon and Whitegate, Co. Clare, and in the Killarney and wider South Kerry area for their goodwill and continued support. The eagles have benefitted from widespread support from communities and landowners, and their presence enhances rural economic values, especially wildlife tourism. Special thanks also go to our friends in Norway who put their faith in the reintroduction programme in Ireland by providing birds and also supporting us through some difficult tim
In Norway, the Norwegian team cooperating with the Irish Reintroduction Programme “was delighted to hear of the first successful hatching of chicks in Ireland, an important milestone on the road to a self-sustaining population of these magnificent birds. Our congratulations to the Irish project team, and to the Irish government who has supported the scheme, including taking measures to address the poisoning threat to the eagles and to the wider environment which the projects work revealed. The constructive approach of Ireland has been an impressive feature of the reintroduction, and we look forward to assisting further with your efforts”. The Norwegian effort to collect chicks for the Irish Reintroduction was composed of local volunteers, with coordination by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and Norwegian Ornithological Society
The news of nesting White-tailed Eagles has generated alot of excitement locally in east Clare and Kerry and is likely to attract the attention of people keen to see the birds. However disturbance, particularly during the early stages of nesting when the birds are on eggs or have small chicks, would be detrimental to the pair’s success. “We are very conscious of the risk of disturbing the birds especially at this stage of nesting”Dr. Mee added. Please note that it is an offence under the Wildlife Act (1976) to willfully disturb White-tailed Eagles at the nest. Disturbance could result in the birds leaving the small chicks unguarded for a period during which they could be predated or be chilled or the birds could desert the site. We would caution people not to approach the nest area but instead avail of the unique opportunity to watch from a nesting pair of sea eagles from nearby Mountshannon pier. Information on the birds, their ecology and conservation will be available. We would like to acknowledge the goodwill and assistance of local people in the Mountshannon area, Mountshannon Community Council, local angling, gun clubs and Clare County Council before and during the nesting period“.
Ronan Hannigan, Chairman of the Golden Eagle Trust stated: “We really appreciate the huge level of support received for all our restoration projects, particularly at grass root level. White Tailed Eagles depend on the ongoing support of landowners, fishermen, clubs, farmers, local businesses, traders, tourists and school children. They hopefully now will be a more regular sight all over the West of Ireland.” Hannigan went on to say “Many Companies have sponsored the projects, including Killarney Resorts Ltd (Liebherr), KPMG, Printrun Limited and Dublin Zoo, to whom we are very grateful. A special thanks to Norway for giving such a unique gift to the people of Ireland. The hatching of White-tailed Eagle chicks in Ireland again after over 100 years will no doubt boost tourism in this Year of the Gathering, but also in the years to come, and hopefully will restore some of our magical past”.
Whatever the outcome of these nesting attempts, the signs are good for future breeding in the area and at a number of other sites across Ireland in the near future. White-tailed Eagles can live for 25-30 years and generally mate for life with adult pairs remaining within their home range throughout the year. First time breeders, especially young birds, often fail at their first attempt. However, with the goodwill and support of local communities the species should have a bright future in Ireland.
The White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Red Kite Reintroduction Projects in the Republic of Ireland are managed by the Golden Eagle Trust in partnership with the National Parks & Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the Republic of Ireland.
White-tailed Eagle chicks were collected under licence in Norway and transported to Ireland for release.
One hundred young White-tailed Eagles were released between 2007 and 2011 in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry. To date 27 birds have been recovered dead.
Over the past six years White-tailed Sea Eagles have dispersed throughout Ireland and beyond. Many eagles have been reported from Northern Ireland and at least six birds have travelled to Scotland. One male that spend 8 months away from Kerry in 2009 travelled over 2,000 kilometres to the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland before returning to Kerry. In early 2011 this male was found paired with a female in south Kerry. Immature White-tailed Sea Eagles may disperse over a wide area but once birds begin to mature and pair up at 4-5 years old they establish territories along the coast and inland lakes where they are resident throughout their lifetime.
Historically, the White-tailed Sea Eagle was once a respected and conspicuous part of the Irish landscape, before it was driven to extinction in the early 20th century by human persecution.
White-tailed Eagle tourism brings in an additional £5 million annually to the local economy of the Isle of Mull, Scotland.