The largest raptor in Britain has returned to English skies after 240 years. Once plentiful in southern England, white-tailed eagles were wiped extinct by illicit hunting in the 18th century. The last one was shot in 1918 on the Scottish Shetland Islands. They were last seen in England in 1780 near Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, European sea eagle populations suffered major decreases and extinction in various nations (RSPB). Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation are helping this species recover.
Six young white-tailed eagles were released on the Isle of Wight last summer as a five-year restoration program. The birds were gathered from the wild in Scotland, where they were reintroduced in the 1970s. Four juvenile birds have been connected with GPS trackers and are making their maiden trips. The satellite data has offered the crew unique insights into the birds’ behavior, which was primarily inactive over winter but expanded to Norfolk, Kent, and Somerset. Male G393 and female G318 flew to North York Moors.
They spent days in the national park and four hours investigating a 12-mile section of the coast between Whitby and Saltburn-by-Sea. G274 completed a 325-mile journey of southeast England over three days and bonded with G324 on the Isle of Wight throughout the winter. G324, the most sedentary of the four birds since release, was sighted paragliding over the west Wight with G274. White-tailed eagles don’t breed until they’re 4 or 5, but G274 and G324 may become a breeding pair if they survive. Satellite data has provided the crew with unique insights into the birds’ behavior, demonstrating they prefer a tailwind and open sky for great moves. “Sit-and-wait” foragers prefer to wait and watch their prey rather than fly far for food, saving energy.
“Watching these wonderful birds take to the skies of the Isle of Wight has been a very special moment,” said Roy Dennis, founder of The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.
Establishing a white-tailed eagle population in southern England will link and sustain new populations in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland, returning the species to southern Europe.