Mull’s sea eagles

Mull’s ‘Celebrity’ Eagles

A Worldwide Focus

With a healthy population of around 35 pairs, the Isle of Mull boasts the highest breeding density of Golden Eagles in Europe. Largely as a result of their preferred mountain and moorland habitat on the island, Golden Eagles are less likely to be encountered by the casual birdwatcher visiting Mull, particularly during the breeding season. However, much of Mull’s White-tailed Eagle population can be seen at the coast, with several breeding localities in close proximity of public roads, which can make the viewing of these awesome birds easier. The RSPB has produced an informative leaflet, The White-tailed Eagle Trail, which provides details of where to look for these iconic raptors around the island.

The long-running partnership that makes public viewing of White-tailed Eagles possible on Mull has turned the resident breeding pair at Loch Frisa (‘Skye’ and ‘Frisa’) into ‘celebrities’, aided by their inclusion on flagship national television programmes, such as the BBC’s ‘Springwatch’ and ‘Autumnwatch’.

Public Relations

In recent years, local schoolchildren on the island have been asked to give a name to each new chick that hatches at the Loch Frisa nest. Many people feel that it is wrong to anthropomorphise wild birds and animals by ascribing them pet names, yet this has engaged local youngsters with the work that is being done to ensure the survival of Mull’s expanding White-tailed Eagle population and has been a wonderful public relations exercise and a powerful marketing tool. A huge surge of interest in White-tailed Eagles on Mull coincided with BBC television’s ‘Springwatch’ programme following the daily lives of two chicks at Loch Frisa in 2005. ‘Itchy’ and ‘Scratchy’, as they were lovingly  and amusingly named, were to become the most media-friendly birds in the country, as wildlife enthusiasts craved the latest information regarding the movements of these young eagles.

Contact was lost with ‘Itchy’ and ‘Scratchy’ and it could only be hoped that all was well with them as they approached sexual maturity. Ideally, it would be most welcome if they had met prospective partners and settled to breed elsewhere on the West coast of Scotland. A request for any new information regarding the whereabouts of either of these eagles proved fruitless, until…

‘Itchy’ was found successfully breeding with an untagged female in May 2011 at a secret location in Western Scotland. Just another example of how birds as large and seemingly obvious as White-tailed Eagles can be ‘lost’ to their surroundings.

Media-Friendly Eagles

The two successful chicks that were raised at Loch Frisa in 2008 were named ‘Breagha’ (female meaning ‘beautiful’ in Gaelic) and her sibling brother, ‘Mara’ (Sea). Young eagles are known to travel extensively (if not terribly far) during their early years and ‘Breagha’ and ‘Mara’ have proved no exception. Fitted with state-of-the-art satellite tags, anyone interested can follow the movements of these young sea eagles via the Internet. ‘Breagha’, now in her fourth calendar year, had moved northwards to the Isle of Skye, where she remained into 2010. The call of home has been difficult for ‘Breagha’ to resist, however, and she returned to the Isle of Mull (March 2011). ‘Mara’ appears to have a more sedentary nature, having found an area across the Sound of Mull at Loch Sunart that is very much to her liking.

The chicks that were tagged in 2009, ‘Venus’ (female) and ‘Oran’ (male) have been very mobile. ‘Venus’ has been spotted travelling in Mid-Argyll and on the Isle of Jura, while ‘Oran’ has more of a wanderlust, which has taken him south to Northern Ireland and to the bird-rich island of Islay. Unfortunately, the satellites on these young eaglets are no longer transmitting any details of their movements. They may have been damaged and dropped off, although it is sad to realise that the last known whereabouts of these birds were in areas of the mainland that maintains an unhealthy relationship with birds of prey.

Enthralling

The last year (2010) of the satellite study in to the dispersal and movements of infant White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull has already provided some interesting feedback. ‘Midge’ (male) has flown south and is currently residing on the Isle of Bute in the Firth of Clyde, whereas ‘Shelley’ (female) has enjoyed a rather peripatetic lifestyle in her first year of life, roaming freely in the Scottish Highlands, from Aviemore to Ullapool. This satellite monitoring programme has been a great success, resulting in fresh knowledge of these fantastic birds and providing eagle enthusiasts all-over-the-world with the opportunity to keep track of their movements on the Internet.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Marshall www.gowildlandscapesphoto.com

The White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull have a status that stretches far beyond their local coastal domain, attracting the interest and fascination of thousands of spectators throughout the world, enthralled by the role that these iconic birds play in the everyday life of the island.

Downgraded Wild Experience

The authors of this web-site do not condone the continued anthropomorphising of White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull. Consequently, any future up-dates to the information contained within these pages will carry no mention of any of the pet names that have been ascribed to some of the eagles on the island.

The naming of eagles has proved successful in helping engage people in the re-establishment of White-tailed Eagles on Mull, but the authors believe that there is little justification for continuing to give human names and attributes to these birds any longer. They are powerful, wild birds, which sit at the very top of the Isle of Mull’s food chain and to refer to them by anything other than their proper name, in our opinion, can effectively downgrade the experience of seeing them in the wild.