White-tailed eagles, also known as white-tailed sea eagles, are the largest of the European raptors. They were persecuted to extinction in the UK by the early 20th century but were successfully reintroduced to Scotland in the 1970s.
Scientific name: Haliaeetus albicilla
Status: Resident breeder and widespread introductions
Breeding birds: 106 pairs
Conservation status: Red
Length: 69 – 92 cm
Wingspan: 200 – 245 cm
Weight: 3.5 – 5 kg (M) 4 – 7 kg (F)
Adult white-tailed eagles have brown plumage with pale buff edges to their wing coverts and darker flight feathers, lower back and underparts. They have short, white, wedge-shaped tails.
Their heads, necks, and upper breasts are paler and in old birds they become white.
White-tailed sea eagles have yellow hooked bills, yellow eyes with a narrow yellow eye-ring and yellow legs and feet with black talons.
Both adults are similar although the female is slightly larger.
Juvenile white-tailed sea eagles have black-brown plumage with dark head, bill, eyes, and tail. It gains adult plumage at 5-6 years although the tail does not turn white till 8 years. It reaches sexual maturity at 5 years.
White-tailed eagles build their nests on rocky ledges or in tall trees. The nest is bulky made from sticks and branches and lined with twigs, moss, grass, seaweed, ferns, and wool. Each pair has two or three nests which they use alternatively.
White-tailed eagles lay two dull white eggs which are incubated by both male and female for 34-46 days. For the first 2 weeks one parent remains at the nest while the other goes hunting; then both parents hunt together. Chicks fledge at 70-80 days but remain near the nest for a further 2-3 weeks.
White-tailed eagles eat mainly fish but will also prey on small mammals such as rabbits and hares. They will also take eggs and chicks from the colonies of seabirds as well as seabirds themselves.
In winter they will also eat larger mammals such as lambs as carrion.
Where to see them
White-tailed eagles are mainly confined to the west coast of Scotland, although a reintroduction programme is currently taking place in east Scotland and the Isle of Wight
Did you know?
White-tailed eagles will eat fulmars which are thought to e the source of DDT and PCBs found in their eggs.