Close up of white-tailed eagle face
Photo credit: Robin Crossley, Isle of Wight County Press

It has been nearly two months now since the young white tailed eagles were released on the Isle of Wight. We have been closely monitoring them and watching their progress.

We have had some marvellous views of the eagles flying and playing in the air. We have also been sent some amazing photographs and have been encouraged by the positive responses of those lucky enough to have seen them.

One photo in particular from an island photographer Nick Edwards shows you can capture spectacular behaviour without getting too close to the birds. The two birds pictured are playing with a stick they found on the beach! They have been hanging around together over the past month, where one bird goes the other is sure to follow.

Eagles flying above water playing with a stick
Photo credit: Nick Edwards
Eagle flying with Red Kite and Buzzard
Left to right: red kite, eagle, buzzard

Exploring

The birds are continuing to explore and develop their skills, finding food and new places to perch. Most of them remained on the Isle of Wight and surrounding Solent coastline while two have made longer exploratory flights.

Some time ago, one of the birds, nicknamed Culver, made an amazing flight to the Essex coast and then back to the Isle of Wight. More recently, another bird has ventured to Oxfordshire. These kinds of wanderings are typical of young white-tailed eagles, particularly in their first two years as they learn the landscape. Previous research in Scotland shows young birds often venture up to 200 km from the release site during this initial post-release period.

This young male that has flown to Oxfordshire has been seen feeding on a dead roe deer carcass and other carrion, but like the other young eagles it is spending most of its time perched in trees, out of sight. Perhaps most interestingly he has been closely associating with the local red kites. Like red kites, young white-tailed eagles are scavengers and it seems very likely that he is following the kites in the search for food. Carrion is known to make up the bulk of juvenile white-tailed eagle diet, so it’s really encouraging that he is exhibiting this behaviour.

A challenging time

The first few months after leaving the nest are a challenging time for all young birds and we know that not all of the young eagles will survive. Unfortunately, we recently found out that one of our young eagles that had remained on the Isle of Wight after release had died. It had been eating a dead porpoise on the shore for several weeks and we knew where he was roosting. When we noticed that he had moved to a new place and had not been moving around very much, we immediately went out to investigate. Very sadly we found the bird had died. An initial post-mortem has been conducted and although no cause of death could be determined, further tests are underway that may provide some clarity as to exactly what happened.

Whilst this is clearly very sad, we know from previous projects involving white-tailed eagles and other raptors, that losses like this are unfortunately inevitable. During their first year the birds are inexperienced and depend largely on carrion whilst they hone their hunting skills. We give them all the help we can. We closely monitor their progress using satellite tracking and provide food on a daily basis, something that we will continue throughout the winter. However, these are now wild birds and the reality is that not all will make it. Nevertheless, survival rates from similar schemes do offer encouraging signs. In Ireland 75% of juvenile birds survived their first year, and in Scotland 37% of birds reached their breeding age of 5 years old.

Evidence from these and other projects indicates that from the sixty birds we are releasing over the next five years that 6-8 pairs will eventually become established on the South Coast.

Eagle flying through sky

Data

Over the last few weeks we haven’t received any data from the transmitter on one of the birds – Culver. After his long flight to Essex he returned to the Isle of Wight before flying back across to the mainland. At this point we stopped receiving data from his tag – which transmits data through the mobile phone network.

We have analysed the tracking data, consulted with the police, and other experts. We have also conducted both ground and aerial searches in the most likely area using radio tracking equipment (all birds are fitted with a radio transmitter in addition to the satellite tags). However to date we have not been able to determine his location. There have been sporadic unconfirmed reports of white-tailed eagles from various locations and therefore we are keen to hear from anyone who may have seen Culver or any of the other birds.

Sightings

We get a certain amount of data from the tracking process, but observations in the field are critical to understanding how these birds are behaving in the landscape. We are really grateful to people who have shared their sightings, photos and observations with us and hope this will continue over the coming months as we head into the winter. If you can take a photo from a safe distance, without disturbing the birds,please send any photos or information about sightings to us at Instagram: @SeaEagleEngland, Twitter: @SeaEagleEngland and RoyDennisWF

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