White-tailed eagle chick is another addition to UK's thriving bird of prey population
It was announced yesterday that a white-tailed eagle – or sea eagle – chick had hatched in England for the first time in 240 years.
The chick is a result of a reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight, which has seen 25 of the eagles released by the Roy Dennis foundation since 2019. The birds, which were sourced from Scotland, have thrived along the southern coast, and have been spotted as far afield as Yorkshire, Norfolk and flying over London.
This is fantastic news; with a wingspan of up to two and a half metres, the birds are often referred to as ‘flying barn doors’, and although they have been blamed for taking lambs along the coast of the Scottish Highlands, they tend to feed on fish.
These eagles are not the only bird of prey species flourishing in the UK – far from it in fact. Red kites are the most famous and most successful bird of prey reintroductions in the UK, with a population of over 10,000 individuals, following introductions from Sweden and Spain in the 1990s.
Many other species have seen their populations boom in recent years, many without the aid of humans or reintroduction projects. There are over 70,000 pairs of buzzards – the UK’s most widespread bird of prey. There are around 250 breeding pairs of osprey in England and Wales as well as similar numbers in Scotland – but they birds only returned to Britain to breed in the 1950s (of their own accord).
Peregrines are also thriving in many of our cities including in London, while marsh harriers are being seen more and more frequently on wetlands. The hen harrier saw a record number of chicks fledging last year, with 119 hen harrier chicks successfully fledging from nests across uplands in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. And this week a rare black-winged kite – more normally seen in sub-Saharan Africa – was spotted in Norfolk.
It's not all good news; kestrels, which were once commonly seen across the UK, are struggling and in decline, with a loss of habitat and decreasing prey populations suggested as the reasons for this drop in number.
On the whole, however, we are seeing something of a golden age for raptors in the UK. Long may it continue.