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 Home>>British Animals>>The Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle - One of two UK Eagles  

The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is one of two of the UK’s resident eagles, the other being the White-tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). It is the smaller of the two eagles but has a much greater distribution across the British Isles due to the white tailed eagles recent re-introduction after the last bird was shot in 1917.

Duart Castle on Mull
The Isle of Mull is perfect
eagle territory.
The golden eagle is a majestic bird, often seen circling effortlessly for hours in summer thermals rising off the land. It has a wing span of between 180-220cm and weighs in at a hefty average of around 5kg for a healthy bird. The birds live for as much as thirty years although around twenty is the norm for a wild Golden Eagle.

Golden eagles used to be a fixture in the British countryside over the centuries but were gradually shot into submission in England and nearly wiped out in Scotland thanks to a combination of hunting, poisoning via DDT in their prey and other nasty chemicals. The last remaining pair in England fell apart in 2004 when the female of the pair died and wasn’t able to be replaced, leaving only a solitary male. In Scotland the numbers are much better, with around 450 breeding pairs which is still on the increase. Attempts have been continually made to keep golden eagles in England but aside from the original pair, no young were ever able to grab a foothold.

The golden eagle eats a range of mammals such as rabbits, hares, the odd injured or dead lamb or other similarly immobile larger prey, as well as other occasional animals and carrion. Scotland’s expanses of open ground provide perfect hunting territory for these birds, allowing for fast aerial approaches leaving the prey nowhere to run.

Golden eagles breed for life, staying within a very large territory year in, year out, Often moving between different nests(Eyries) each year to bring up their young. They usually lay two eggs in late winter or early spring which hatch after 45-50 days. Nine times out of ten only one chick survives to leave the nest, occasionally exceptionally good hunting years lead to both birds surviving. After another couple of months the young eagles are ready to leave the eyrie and take their first flights. These young eagle are often mistaken for buzzards because of their similar size and markings.

A great place to see these birds is the Isle of Mull which has a very healthy population of golden eagles as well as a few pairs of white tailed sea eagles. Mulls vast valleys and soaring peaks provide channels through which the birds hunt and glide, making sightings a regular occurrence.