Phase two of the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles in the Irish Republic continued last week with the arrival of 23 young eaglets from Norway.
These young birds, collected under licence by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, arrived at Kerry Airport on a chartered flight on Friday and they’ll be looked after in specially-made flight pens until their release in to the wild in August.
After being driven to extinction in Ireland in the early 20th century, an ambitious reintroduction project began in 2007 as a collaborative effort between the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Norway, the Golden Eagle Trust in Ireland and a lot of volunteer farmers and supporters on the ground.
[Project Manager Dr Allan Mee with a young white-tailed eagle during phase one of the reintroduction]
100 young white-tailed eagles were released in the Killarney National Park during phase one between 2007 and 2011 and this has resulted in at least ten breeding pairs becoming established in Kerry, Galway, Clare, Tipperary and Cork producing at least 30 chicks between them.
However, a recent scientific review of the reintroduction project indicated the small population is still vulnerable to factors such as illegal poisoning and the breeding population was negatively impacted by Avian Influenza in 2018 and storm Hannah in 2019.
A decision was made to conduct supplementary releases over a period of three years to bolster the existing population. Ten eagles were reintroduced last year (see here), this latest batch of 23 new arrivals will be released this year and more are expected to be released next year.
It’s an interesting time for this species. With the on-going reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight attracting widespread support and interest, an apparent green-light to begin a reintroduction in Norfolk met with mixed support and antipathy, a lot of interest in a proposed reintroduction to Wales, on-going persecution issues in eastern Scotland and general hysteria generated by the National Farmers Union Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and parts of the media about the perceived damage supposedly being caused by sea eagles in parts of western Scotland (more on that topic soon), it’s not clear to me how the white-tailed eagle will fare over the coming years.
If it’s still not even safe for one to fly over the Cairngorms National Park without becoming victim to a poisoned bait (e.g. see here) then we have to recognise there is still much work to do.