Information and Advisory Note Number 17 Back to menu
Since 1975,108 sea eagles have been released in western Scotland as part of an ongoing SNH and RSPB reintroduction programme. 26 of these birds have been released since 1993. The immature birds range widely over northern Scotland and may therefore be encountered by anyone. All released birds are fitted with wing tags for identification and sightings of these birds provide valuable information on sea eagle movements and survival. Each year several wild-bred young are also tagged and records of these are equally important, as are records of tagged adults released many years ago on Rum. SNH and RSPB staff are collecting records of sea eagles from all parts of Scotland and forms are available to record the details. The purpose of this note is to inform SNH staff of what to look for and what to record if they come across a sea eagle themselves, or if they receive a report from a member of the public.
1.2 Where sea eagles occur
Although mainly associated with coastal habitats, sea eagles can be seen many miles from the sea. In parts of their global range they breed by freshwater lakes and rivers.
The Western Highlands and islands of Scotland are the well known haunt of the species, the island of Rum being the site of the original releases. However, in recent years there have been an increasing number of sightings further east, especially sightings of released birds. Sea eagles have been sighted as far afield as Shetland, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Tayside. An untagged bird (possibly a vagrant) was seen in the Borders in 1993. Therefore there is the possibility that sea eagles could turn up anywhere in Scotland.
In recent years there have been a number of records from elsewhere in the British Isles. Any records from outside Scotland would also be welcome.
The sea eagle is the largest bird of prey in the British Isles. Adults are distinguished from golden eagles (Aquifa chrysaetos) by their pure white, wedge shaped tails and paler plumage on the head and neck. Immatures are very dark and are more likely to be confused with golden eagles. Sea eagles are often described as being vulture-like when compared to the golden eagle and have broader wings and a clumsier flight (Porter et al. 1976). For fuller details of sea eagle identification consult the material suggested for further reading.
Each released sea eagle is fitted with two wing tags, on the upper surfaces of each wing (Figure 1). Where possible wild-bred young are also fitted with tags.
All tags have an annual background colour e.g. yellow for 1994, white for 1995. Each tag of a released bird has a large number on it, 0 -9 (Figure 2). This can be black or white. Released birds also have a colour bar on the lower edge of each tag. These are also useful for identification. At certain angles when the birds are in flight these colour bars are more easily seen than the numbers. The tags of wild young have a letter (usually X, L, T, or O) to distinguish them from released birds and have no colour bar.
2.2 Sighting Forms
All information on tagged birds, however incomplete, could be useful. Even getting the background colour and one colour bar can be enough to identify an individual. Observations of behaviour, such as feeding or roosting should be noted, along with normal details of location, date, observer name, etc. (see attached example of sighting form). Untagged immature and adult sea eagles should also be recorded on these forms.
A blank form is given on the back page of this Information and Advisory Note; please use photocopies of it. Alternatively, blank forms can be obtained from the addresses below.
Details of any sightings, with completed forms, should be returned to:
International and Biodiversity Branch
Scottish Natural Heritage
2 Anderson Place
Tel: 0131-446 2424
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
North Scotland Regional Office
Love, J A (1983). Return of the sea eagle. Cambridge University Press,
Love ,J A (1988). The reintroduction of the white-tailed sea eagle to Scotland: 1975 -1987. NCC Research and Survey in Conservation Report, No. 12. NCC, Peterborough.
Porter, R.F., Willis, I., Christensen, S., and Nielsen, B.P. (1976). Flight identification of European Raptors. Poyser, Berkhamsted.
Those interested should also consult the forthcoming SNH booklet in the 'Scotland's Wildlife' series which provides a condensed account of the natural history of sea eagles and the reintroduction project.
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