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White-tailed (sea) eagle (& update)

25 April 2012

I have already mentioned in a previous entry that there is an eagle on St Kilda. Well, this is big news for us so I thought a separate entry was appropriate and it gives me an opportunity to post more photos of the impressive creature.


My first glimpse of the bird was from the sea, during an outing on Orca III that took us close to the sea cliffs of Soay.  How exciting – everyone on board was grinning from ear to ear!  

Sea eagle flying high over Soay

As soon as I returned to land, I downloaded my photographs and sent one to Will Miles (bird recorder for the islands) so he could confirm our sighting. And he did ‘‘obviously a white-tail, but probably a young bird (2nd or 3rd year), given the pale bands across the inner underwing and black tips to the tail feathers'.

Close up of the EaglePhoto of a photo - taken by Becks, Field assistant on the sheep project


The white-tailed eagle (or sea eagle) is Britain’s largest bird of prey and the world’s fourth largest eagle, with a wingspan stretching 8 feet across. According to the book ‘Birds of St Kilda’, sea eagles apparently bred here in the 17th, 18th and possibly 19th centuries. Seven recent records are documented; in 1994 (single birds, March and April), 1997 (one bird, May and two birds together in July) and 1998 (single bird, June). All individuals were sub-adults.    Knowing that this species is such a rare visitor to the islands makes every viewing even more special.


Several days later I was conducting a survey of colour ringed bonxies on Conachair.  It was going fantastically well until, all of a sudden, what seemed like every bird on the hill lifted and showed an interest in the pair of eagles that were circling above.  Yes – a *pair* of eagles – what a spectacular sight!  Ok, so they put an end to my survey, but I didn’t mind as it was a pleasure to watch the eagles soaring and gliding through the air.  I sure wish my camera had a more powerful zoom lens at times like this...

Silhouette of an eagleBack of an eagle Pair of eagles (and a bonxie for scale)Pair of eagles in flight - the bonxie is tiny in comparison!

Eagle disappearing behind the hillDisappearing behind the hill


Update 27/4/12:
I was out early this morning to check for birds at the top of the hill. I was ever so slightly regretting this decision as I sheltered from several hail showers and then horizontal sleet. But, the morning soon improved when I saw the pair of eagles again.

Eagle flying through snow showerPhoto: Eagle flying through snow

Eagle from above but very far awayPhoto: from above, but still very far away

Eagle 1Photo: hints of colour


(Seabird and Marine Ranger)

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