Golden eagles have returned to Orkney and are breeding here once again after an absence of almost 40 years. Earlier this year local RSPB Scotland staff were delighted to spot a pair nesting at the organisation’s nature reserve in Hoy, and can confirm that they now have chicks. The pair have been seen flying about as they forage.
These majestic birds used to be a common sight and breed across Orkney but persecution by humans meant just a single pair was left by 1848 in Hoy. Orkney had to wait 116 years until 1966 to see the return of breeding golden eagles. This pair had a long and successful partnership in Hoy raising many chicks together until one of the adults died in the winter of 1982. As these birds pair for life the surviving eagle continued to return to Hoy for three years but there were no further nesting attempts.
The RSPB Scotland staff have been keeping a watchful eye on the new pair to see how they are faring. As golden eagles are very sensitive to disturbance the location of the nest is not being disclosed, and the number of chicks isn’t known as the those watching it having been keeping a safe distance away. The species typically has one or two chicks at a time, so the local team are looking forward to when the young fledge to see how many emerge.
Lee Shields, RSPB Scotland’s Hoy warden, said “It is wonderful to see these magnificent eagles return to Orkney and we’re delighted that they are nesting in Hoy. Golden eagles are one of the most iconic birds in Scotland and they have been missing here for too long.
Golden Eagle, copyright Ron Marshall, from the surfbirds galleries
“We want to give these birds the best chance of success which is why it’s so important to not reveal where the nest is. It is an inspiring sight to see the male and female soaring over the Hoy hills, and we’re eagerly awaiting finding out how many chicks they have.”
Hoy appears to be the go to place for returning eagles to breed in Orkney, likely due to the terrain in uninhabited areas of the island being well suited for them. Back in 2018 Orkney’s first white-tailed eagle chicks for over 140 years hatched in Hoy. Then RSPB Scotland ran “Eaglewatch” events to allow people to catch a glimpse of the birds but given the heightened sensitivity of golden eagles and as the white-tailed eagles have not bred this year is not doing so here.
Golden eagles are one of the largest birds in Scotland. They are more than twice the size of a buzzard, with a wingspan of 1.8 – 2.3m. Their lifespan is typically over 20 years. All of the UK’s breeding golden eagles are found in Scotland, with the most recent national survey in 2015 putting their numbers at 508 pairs.
Lee added: “This golden eagle pair are at an early stage of their breeding life and as they are long-lived birds we hope not only that they will be as successful as their predecessors, but that they are the beginning of this species re-establishing itself in Orkney. These birds are an integral part of Orkney’s history and with this pair and their young we’re keeping our fingers crossed we can look forward to them being part of its future once again.”