A Scottish conservation group is celebrating a record year for sea eagles, with 29 young birds being raised in the Western Isles.
Mull tops the table with ten flegling chicks, while Skye has seen three hatch, although unseasonally bad weather caused the death of one of them.
One breeding pair on Skye had three chicks, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Scotland – a very unusual feat. The birds, also known as white-tailed eagles, have become tourist attractions on the islands as they catch fish under the gaze of tourists and twitchers.
Mull and Skye are home to two-thirds of the country’s population of sea eagles. RSPB Scotland says it has worked hard with police and the Forestry Commission to ensure the nests are kept safe.
Mull schoolchildren have christened their pair of fledglings Oatie and Haggis. RSPB Scotland has set up a CCTV feed on Skye so visitors can see the birds. More than 8,500 visitors have seen the birds this way in 2006. Last year’s chicks were named Itchy and Scratchy.
The eagles will feature in a BBC show Saving Planet Earth next year, presented by actor Tom Conti.
RSPB Scotland’s Mull officer David Sexton said: “Over 5,500 people enjoyed watching Skye, Frisa, Haggis and Oatie at Loch Frisa [on Mull] this year and booking enquiries for next year are already coming in.
“The local tourist information centres also recorded their busiest season yet for visitors coming to see wildlife. The challenge now is to ensure that the sea eagles and other wildlife are not adversely affected by all this additional, but welcome interest in our incredible natural world.
“The aim must be for wildlife to thrive and for people to be enthused and satisfied by their experience. It's important too that they realise that the biodiversity is so rich here largely thanks to the way the land and seas are managed and the people that do it. Long may it remain so."
The white-tailed eagle is Britain’s largest bird, with a wing span of more than eight feet. They were hunted into extinction with the last bird, an albino female, being shot in 1918 in Shetland. They were re-introduced in 1975 with birds imported from Norway and the first home-bred chick was hatched ten years later. It is believed there are still only 20 pairs breeding successfully in Britain.