Baby Golden Eagles Released in Scotland to Save Dwindling Population
Golden eagles are struggling in southern Scotland — but these babies could save the day.
It’s always an emotional day when the kids finally leave home.
You know how it goes: It takes ages to pack up the nests, there’s squabbles in the car. But the moment comes when the wild awaits — and you’ve got to let them spread their wings.
But there’s a lot riding on Edward, Emily, and Beaky — the three young birds who are carrying the weight of a whole bird population in their talons.
The baby golden eagles are part of an ambitious translocation project that aims to bolster their numbers in southern Scotland.
The BBC reports that it’s the most significant reintroduction project ever undertaken for a large predator in the UK — and with 10 young eagles set to be taken south from the Scottish Highlands in the next four years, there are hopes that they will even be seen in England and Wales.
It’s somewhat aptly called the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, and is led by the Southern Uplands Partnership.
Three golden eagles have been released into the wild in southern Scotland as part of a project 10 years in the making.— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) August 21, 2018
BBC cameras got exclusive access as they spread their wings. https://t.co/HVsstA10lupic.twitter.com/cHzp0OwLD0
There are just five breeding pairs in southern Scotland, according to the BBC. But in England and Wales? A big, fat zero.
Edward, Emily, and Beaky — so named by local children — were moved from their nests in the Highlands and released from a secret location in the Moffat Hills on Tuesday. Each eagle was fitted with satellite trackers, and will be monitored closely by project staff; although the team have asked the public for help with sightings, too.
Importantly, the chicks were only handled on two occasions, minimising human contact and allowing a simple transition to a brand new environment.
Heartening to hear good news on raptors on @bbcnews this evening, of the golden eagle population in southern Scotland getting a boost from relocated birds from the #highlands. Hopefully it will lead to expansion into northern England and who knows where from there! Fingers crossed they can avoid the persistent and unwavering persecution that has dogged eagles (& other raptors) passing through grouse moor estates in the highlands.
The whole thing has already been 11 years in the making, and is set to cost £1.3 million.
"This is the icon of wild Scotland,” said Professor Des Thomson, Scottish Heritage’s principal adviser for science and biodiversity. “We are on the threshold of giving something very exciting back to the south of Scotland.”
"Young golden eagles are heavily persecuted: a third of them have been killed either through shooting or poisoning,” he added. "Down here in the south of Scotland we've been able to reassure ourselves persecution is not an issue. It's just a small fragmented population that needs this helping hand from us.”
Thrilled to talk about this amazing project yesterday, with the first 3 eagle chicks taking flight! https://t.co/tZ2zxypJNM— Scottish Natural Heritage (@nature_scot) August 22, 2018
And Cat Barlow from the Golden Eagle Project described the launch as “very significant.”
"We are trying to boost the dwindling population and make sure that we are seeing a bird that should be here in the skies of the south of Scotland,” said Barlow. "This will be their first time out of the aviaries. They may fly a few metres, they may fly a hundred metres up the valley. We don't really know yet.”
"But we've chosen a spot where there's lots of different sites where they can rest and perch – rocks for them to sit on, things like that,” she added. "So hopefully they will fly out into the valley, find somewhere to settle, and in their own time get up into the skies and explore."
The launch comes at a crucial moment for bird populations worldwide. Of the birds left on the planet, 70% are poultry chickens and other farmed birds. And the golden eagle — the top predator in the Scottish countryside and the second-largest bird in the UK — is equally under threat from changing biodiversity landscapes disrupted by climate change.
And, like Thomson mentioned, they’re a “persecuted” species: People have been known to rob their nests, or even poison them. The scheme isn't about messing with nature — it’s about protecting the beautiful creatures that face challenges as a result of human activity.
The project aims to help people, too. A rare sighting could help boost tourism in far-flung places — and provide an important economic uplift to rural communities around the country.
When golden eagles couple up they’re paired for life. Perhaps they can also strike a fresh romance with the people eager to spot them?
"In bolstering golden eagle numbers in the south of Scotland, the project will add to the biodiversity of the area, as well as potentially attracting more visitors with the accompanying economic benefits that brings," said Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland's environment secretary.