In a shock revelation cameras have proved that eagles are not vegetarian. Film from White-tailed Eagle nests not only confirmed that the birds had white tails but that they were indeed eagles and ate meat. Although none of the images taken from nests showed the large birds bringing back nuts and berries to their ravenous chicks, conservationists pointed to the fact that most of the images of prey could not be identified and said ‘We think there must have been the odd nut roast in there too’.
But, to be serious, the c16 pairs of White-tailed Eagles which nest on Mull alone, are estimated to be worth over £5m to the island economy each year. Let’s say the live weight of the average lamb at market is 50kg and the live weight price is (a very generous) £2/kg – that makes each live, surviving lamb worth £100. Scotland’s 66 pairs (in 2012) of White-tailed Eagles would have to kill 50,000 lambs a year that would otherwise have got to market to wipe out the economic benefit through tourism of just Mull’s eagles.
Captive White-tailed Eagles ate about 0.5kg of meat/day. If all of Scotland’s White-tailed Eagles (let’s say 250 birds, at a guess) are feeding solely on small lambs (let’s say 20kg live weight of which 10kg is edible by the eagles), and that they kill these lambs rather than eating carrion, for three months of the year, then that might be c1000 lambs in all – enough to have a local impact but of national triviality. Since White-tailed Eagles do not prey exclusively on lambs (and don’t even come close to it), and most lambs fed upon are carrion rather than kills, it is quite surprising that it gets as much attention as it does.
White-tailed Eagles put far more turkey on crofters’ tables this Christmas, than they remove, and the value of the eagles is spread through the Scottish economy too. Added to which, I like eagles, very much. When is the UK or Scottish government going to reimburse me for all those visits to Scotland I made in my youth when I failed to see eagles because they were so much rarer then. I was robbed for years of the joy and pleasure of seeing a barn door in a Scottish sky. I feel I should be compensated.