In 2017, Chris Packham and I, in collaboration with Dave Anderson and a number of eagle experts in the Scottish Raptor Study Group began satellite-tracking golden eagles in Scotland as part of a wider scientific research project to understand more about the ecology of young dispersing eagles and their conservation requirements.
We’ve tagged birds in various regions, including south Scotland. The first one we tagged in south Scotland was Fred, in 2017, named after the landowner’s grandson but who on his very first journey away from his parents, vanished in suspicious circumstances next to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills, just seven miles from the Scottish Parliament. His tag’s last transmission came from the North Sea where we believe the tag, and quite possibly Fred, was dumped (see here).
Since then we’ve tagged a number of other young golden eagles in south Scotland and the timing of these has coincided with the release of translocated golden eagles in the region as part of another project (South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, SSGEP) to boost the tiny, remnant population of wild golden eagles in south Scotland.
[Translocated golden eagle Beaky, photos by John Wright]
So for example, an eagle we tagged in 2018, called Keith (named by one of the raptor fieldworkers) is the same age as three of the translocated golden eagles from the SSGEP – Beaky, Edward and Emily.
In a typical natural and healthy population, we might expect these eagles to reach maturity and try and settle in a territory to breed at around five years of age (although there is individual variation, of course). However, with the large number of vacant golden eagle breeding territories available in south Scotland (thanks to a history of rampant illegal persecution) and very little competition in the way of territorial adults, we might expect to see these young eagles pairing up and making breeding attempts from three year’s old (i.e. this year).
And that is apparently what we’re beginning to see. No actual breeding attempts yet but display flights and golden eagles Keith (wild male) and Beaky (translocated female) hanging out together in recent weeks, confirmed by satellite tag data from both eagles and sightings in the field by raptor workers.
Project Officer John Wright from the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project has just written a blog about it – here.
We are in contact with the project team and we’ll be keeping an eye out to see whether any of our other eagles are showing signs of pairing up.