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How to spot White-Tailed or Sea Eagles in Scotland

Posted on Mar 06, 2015 by Jonathan Willet

The Sea Eagle is Scotland’s largest bird of prey and is the fourth largest eagle species in the world.

The bird’s median wingspan of 281cm earns it the monkier ‘the flying barn door’. So where can you see this impressive bird, and how would you recognise it? Here are our tips on spotting White-Tailed or Sea Eagles.

First a bit of history:

  • Hundreds of years ago Sea Eagles or White-tailed Eagles were found all over the UK.
  • The last Sea Eagle in Scotland, an old female, was shot on the island of Unst in Shetland in 1918.
  • Sea cliffs are their last refuge but they also nest inland near lochs (lakes) where they hunt for ducks and fish or just scavenge.
  • There were attempted reintroductions in Perthshire and The Fair Isle in the 1950’s and 60’s but these failed.
  • From 1975 to 1985 a major reintroduction effort took place on Rum,  in Wester Ross in the 1990’s and Fife between 2007 and 2012.
  • The population (March 2015) is well over 200 adult birds.

 

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How to spot a Sea Eagle

  • Their size. Their heads and beaks are large.
  • The wings are broad all the way along their length, with obvious primary feathers (fingers) at the end.
  • The bird has a short-tailed and short-necked appearance.
  • The eagles are often mobbed by other birds when they are flying and even a Raven will look tiny next to it.
  • They don’t flap their wings much and even in a strong wind will not be buffeted as much as other birds.
  • A pale head and white tail on adult birds is obvious in good light, while juveniles are all dark and shaggy.
  • Don’t get it mixed up with an immature Golden Eagles: they have a white tail but with a black band and white patches on the upper and underside of their wings.

Where to see them

  • In breeding season Mull and Wester Ross are very reliable areas as well as Fife and Angus.
  • Mull has a hide that views a nest.
  • In winter Sea Eagles can be seen all over Scotland and they are attracted to large lochs like Loch Leven being a regular haunt.

Join us on a wildlife adventure in Scotland

Want to discover more nature in the beauty of the Scottish wilderness? Check out our incredible Scottish wildlife trips below where you can encounter a variety of diverse wildlife such as Seals, Otters, Dolphins and Eagles.

About the author

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Jonathan Willet

Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.

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