White Tailed Eagles - Hebridean Birds

Western Isles Birds - White Tailed Eagles. The sea eagles are now becoming a regular sight here in The Western Isles.

The sea eagle, or white tailed eagle, being Britain's largest bird of prey, I thought deserved a little more information being displayed than the Bird Overview chart beneath, as they truly are amazing birds, birds that have come to symbolise majesty and splendour
White Tailed Eagle - Isle of Lewis
Bird Overview - White Tailed Eagle
Crows and allies (Corvidae)
Latin name
Haliaeetus albicilla


Similar Species
Golden Eagle

The White tailed sea eagle is Britain's largest bird of prey. Its beak is nearly as long as its head. Immature birds have dark bills which gradually turn the yellow colour as the birds gets older.

Mature birds have a grey brown plumage with a paler head, with of course the striking yellow eye.This eagle has a short tail.

These large eagles have a wingspan of over two and a half metres (the golden eagle reaches at most 2 metres). It measures 69–95 cm (27–37 in) in length .Females, typically weighing 4–6.9 kg (8.8–15 lb), are slightly larger than males, which weigh 3.1–5.4 kg (6.8–12 lb)

These large raptors prefer mountainous, often treeless, habitats, although they require large trees or rock faces for nesting.

White tailed or sea eagles as they are called have a varied diet, fish, birds, carrion and small mammals. During the winter they scavenge and feed on dead deer, sheep or whatever is available. They also eat birds such as fulmars, shags, eiders, greylag geese and indeed grey heron.

White-tailed eagle are quite vocal and call far more often than golden eagles. The call is a mixture of a bark and a yelp, and sounds rather strange coming from such an impressive bird.


White-tailed Eagles are mature at four or five years of age. These birds pair for life and their aerial courtship display culminates in the pair locking claws mid-air and whirling earthwards in series of spectacular cartwheels.

They produce one to three eggs per year March or April. Incubation is done by both the male and the female eagles for 38 days, when the chick hatches the female then takes over the feeding mostly

The young eagles fledge at around eleven weeks, staying usually near the nest and their parents for another 6 - 10 weeks

Misc. Info

Extinction of the White-tailed Eagles in the UK

In the Shetland Islands, the last UK bred White-tailed Eagle was shot - that was in 1918. The species became extinct in the UK. Previously they had been quite common in some places in the UK, but a mixture of their habitats becoming not as readily available and also their persecution (due to a reputation for taking lambs), had led to it's decline.

White-tailed Eagles are Reintroduced to Scotland

Young White Tailed-eagles from Norwegian nests were released to Fair Isle and Rum, they bred, the first chick fledging in 1985.

Since then more young eagles from Norway were released in Wester Ross.


By 2007 there were 42 breeding pairs of White-tailed Eagles in Scotland. Many of the UK's white tailed sea eagles can be seen on Skye and Mull, however recently they have become quite successful on The isle of Lewis, Isle of Harris and the Uists.

Click the Pictures Below for Larger Photos

Names - Erne - Shetland Folklore
In Shetland and parts of mainland Scotland, it is still known as the Erne from the Anglo-Saxon for 'the soarer'. Shetland fishermen are said to have put eagle fat on their fishing hooks to help improve their catches. It was said that when the Erne appeared, fish would rise to the surface in submission!

Last Recorded native White Tailed Eagle
The last recorded native sea eagle in Britain was actually a rare albino (white all over). It was in Shetland and unfortunately it was indeed shot, that was in 1917. The ones we have now are probably descendants of birds brought in from Norway. At present there are only white tailed sea eagles in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland

White Tailed Eagles - Sea Eagles Extinction
There were actually many reasons why the sea eagles became extinct in Britain, not least as their habitats began to disappear when ancient woodlands were felled and wetlands drained all to make way for the large farms. The large farms of course saw the eagles as predators and at one time were actively encouraged to shoot the eagles.

They sea eagles did thrive a little better in remote areas of Scotland and the Highlands & Islands than in England, however even there as shooting wasn't opposed and sea eagles brought great prices. When the spread of sheep farming occurred in the Western Highlands, and sheep farmers regularly poisoned the poor birds.

After this time of course there was then yet another threat to their survival, this time from Chemicals and toxic pesticides and industrial pollutants, which is why in Norway, where they had very low levels of Industry and pollution managed to keep the level of breeding white tailed sea eagles up

The White tailed sea eagles , like all birds of prey in Britain are protected by law under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which says it is illegal to shoot, poison or kill or disturb eagles nests, or to take eggs or young birds. There is also a new Nature Conservation Act which makes it illegal to disturb their nests and if this is found to have happened there a heavy fine penalties, and prison sentences may also be effected.


The Eagle with the Sunlit Eye
The gaelic name for these birds is "Iolairesuilnagreine" - which means the eagle with the sunlit eye. Actually the sea eagles eye is quite amazing and these birds have great sharp eyesight, they can spot prey from great distances away, they are said to be able to see 6 times farther than humans with perfect eyesight. The eyes are huge especially in relation to their head size, they have 2 centres for focus which means that they can see forwards and sideward at the same time - a very useful feature.

These birds seen here in the Western isles have huge great feet and legs or talons which they use for grabbing their prey, On the talons they have really huge oversized claws used to hang on to their prey

Birds Don't Breed Until They are 5 or 6
The white tailed eagles don't breed until they are 5 or 6, which will make you realise how important it is that these birds aren't interfered with and are left to grow to adulthood. They pair for life, though if one dies replacement can occur quickly. They have a characteristic aerial courtship display which culminates in the pair locking talons mid-air and whirling earthwards in series of spectacular cartwheels

Flight - Speed
White Tailed Sea eagles may reach speeds of up to 60 miles an hour and dives of even faster speeds up to 100 miles per hour.


The nest is called an eyrie and is usually either on a cliff edge or in a very large tree. The white tailed eagles spend the winter "courting" and nest building and the eggs are laid in March. These nests can be huge and as they are used in following years, they can get to be huge, even up to 12 foot or nearly 4 metres in height. They are most made with tree branches and sticks. The white tailed eagles may have several nests in a favoured area, and they return often to the favoured areas and to the same nests over and over again.

Territories - Overlapping with Golden Eagle
The territories of the white tailed eagles up to 70 kilometres, may often overlap with those of a Golden Eagle which is why there can be "squabbles" between the two species of eagles. However Golden Eagles prefer mountains and moorland, while the White-tailed Eagle prefers the coast and the sea

Young Eagles
The young eagles spend up to 5 years in non breeding areas, often with other young non breeding birds. The first winter for the young eagle is crucial for its development and if it survives the 1st winter, its likely it could live to 20years old.

No predators

The sea eagles have in Britain, no predators, and indeed the only thing that has affected its survival has been either loss of habitat, or lack of food resources, or of course human actions, such as egg theft, poisoning, or shooting.

Old Beliefs and Traditions, perhaps dating back to the Iron Age

It is said that in orkney, ancient peoples might have seen the sea eagles as totemic symbol which they looked upon with superstitious respect and incredibly sea eagles bones have been found alongside human remains buried together. In the Iron Age, sea eagles appear in Pictish Carvings

Literature - Eagles and Lord of The Rings
Eagles appear with dramatic effect as allies in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Gandalf is rescued from the top of Saruman's tower by one of these giant birds, and later on the eagles help take on the Nazgul in battle, and even rescue Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom when it looks like all is lost.

Tradition and Feathers
Highland clan chiefs still wear three eagle feathers in their bonnets to symbolise their ranks. In Native American culture, eagles and their feathers still hold great significance

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