Golden Eagles on a weak thermal

Golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos adult male sitting in heather, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Photo: Peter Cairns/RSPB images
Golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos adult male sitting in heather, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Photo: Peter Cairns/RSPB images

There ought to be a lot more Golden Eagles in the UK and the results of the most recent survey (2015) show that there are more than in 2003 so that’s good news.  There are 508 pairs of Golden Eagles in Scotland which represents an increase of 15% which isn’t bad at all and is jolly good news.

Apparently, being over 500 pairs represents favourable conservation status although there are over 700 traditional Golden Eagle territories in Scotland so we are an awful long way short of that.

Four satellite-tagged Golden Eagles have been found illegally killed in the Central and Eastern Highlands in recent years:  “Alma” in 2009, a bird in Glenbuchat in 2011, a trapped bird in Millden in 2012 and “Fearnan” in 2013.

Various people and an eagle were quoted as follows:


Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said: “The sight of a golden eagle soaring in the sky above is an awe-inspiring part of our natural heritage, and this increase in numbers of golden eagle pairs is great news. Across many parts of Scotland there’s been a very welcome turnaround in how people respect these magnificent birds, part of a more enlightened public attitude towards birds of prey. Increased monitoring and satellite tagging of eagles, as well as stronger sanctions against wildlife crime may be serving as effective deterrents against illegal activity, therefore helping their population to increase. However, the continued absence of golden eagles in some areas of eastern Scotland remains a real cause for concern and suggests that much more work needs to be done.”

Andrew Bachell, SNH’s Director of Policy & Advice, said: “It’s wonderful to see golden eagles reaching favourable conservation status nationally. These beautiful birds are such an important part of Scotland’s nature, a species which people love to see when they visit our wilder landscapes. It’s particularly encouraging to see greater recovery in some areas where persecution had been thought to be a major constraint in the past. That picture is uneven though, and we would still expect eagles to be doing better in parts of the eastern Highlands. We will continue to look at all the factors which may be limiting numbers, in the hope that we will see further spread of the range and increase in numbers of eagles in the future. We continue to work with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) group to combat persecution of birds of prey.”

Daniel Hayhow, lead author of the study, said: “The huge national survey effort required a minimum three visits to over 700 known traditional golden eagle sites, the length and breadth of Scotland. We thank the voluntary Scottish Raptor Study Group for the dedication and expertise of their surveyors, who went out in all weathers in some of the remotest parts of Scotland. Without them we simply would not have the vital data needed to assess the numbers of these magnificent birds. We also acknowledge the help and support of many landowners and farmers who provided invaluable logistical support on the ground.”

Patrick Stirling-Aird, Scottish Raptor Study Group Secretary, said: “The Scottish Raptor Study Group is very pleased to have played a key role in the 2015 national golden eagle survey and welcomes the recorded increase in the bird’s numbers since the previous 2003 survey, in essence a recovery from a lower level brought about by human agency. The Scottish Raptor Study Group is grateful for the help given to its surveyors by land owners and land managers in many locations but will analyse and pay particular attention to golden eagle population recovery (or the continuing lack of it) in parts of the central and eastern Highlands.”

Tim Baynes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group, part of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Our members are passionate about the golden eagles on their land and it is in large part a tribute to their management and collaboration that the population has increased. They have helped the surveyors and worked with Scottish Natural Heritage in the interest of golden eagles for many years. The east Highlands still have the highest level of productivity (young per pair) and a stable number of occupied territories over more than three decades. The south central Highlands, which includes significant areas of driven grouse moor has shown by far the greatest increase in range occupancy – 70% – since 2003. Overall, we are pleased that golden eagles are now in ‘favourable conservation status’ for the first time since national surveys started.”

Goldie McEagle, spokesperson for the UK Golden Eagle population, said: “Our members are passionate about the intensive  grouse moors that have taken over so much of our land and it is in large part due to illegal persecution associated with that land use that we are still missing from over 200 traditionally occupied territories. We’d like to ask all grouse shooting estates to uphold the law and let us live in peace because we were here first. Please stop leaving poisons out on the hill and killing huge numbers of yummy Mountain Hares. We are the real hunters of Red Grouse and it takes a lot of skill to catch them the way we do rather than hang around in little shelters and wait for them to be driven towards you.  Call yourselves hunters?!

It’s nice to see you all congratulating yourselves but I’m not sure that being more than 200 pairs below potential is what my members would call favourable status.  You lot could do an awful lot more for us you know.”


15 Replies to “Golden Eagles on a weak thermal”

  1. Scotland 508 England 0. Whilst human population and recreational activity limits the available habitat in England there should surely be some birds in the Lakes and north Pennines.

      1. I think Wales would be a good bet for establishing a new population of golden eagles. Grouse shooting virtually extinct and from there a second front from which England can be recolonised. Hen Harriers are now increasing in Wales which is a good sign.

  2. This season was the fourth year I have been monitoring golden eagle territories in the Blackmount forest along with the glens close to Fort William. I became concerned at the sight of a single male bird at at least three of these territories throughout the last three seasons. At one territory located just a few miles from Fort William, when I first visited the site in 2013 I found an addled egg inside the nest. The egg shell although in tact was faded and had sunk half way into the nest detritus, because of this I deduced it was likely the egg had been in the nest from the previous season. From the indicators found in trees close to the remains of two eyries, fresh feathers and down, I deduced the territory must be still occupied by at least one eagle. On closer examination below the nesting cliff I discovered the fragmented remains of two eggs positioned 5 to 8 feet apart and at least 15 feet from the cliff face. Clearly both eggs had been thrown from the nest at some point relatively recently.

    Last year and again this season after spending many hours observing the nesting cliff from the glen below I only observed a single male visiting the nest site on two occasions. In both years although one nest had been refurbished and contained the remains of fresh kills I found no eggs. In 2015 I witnessed the male eagle fly from the cliff rising up to about 1000 feet where he continued to display for nearly a full hour before flying off out of the glen, I did not see him return. This year when the site was again visited in June I examined the remains of two eyries structures, both had recent signs of being visited by an eagle. I discovered two fresh prey remains on top of the nesting cliff. On the way down from the cliff for the last time I observed a single male flying high above the territory.

    Resulting from my 4 years observations made at this territory I have reached one firm conclusion based upon a number of factors. This territory is being interfered with to prevent golden eagles breeding. The female appears to have disappeared from the site a few years before my first examination of this territory in 2013. In the last two years the local shepherd has constructed sheep holding pens in the glen directly below the nesting cliff. The remains of the eggs shells found below the nesting cliff was not in my view the result of any natural cause I can think of. The female is now missing. The territory has not been productive for the last 7 years I have been advised. A single male eagle has remained alone for at least the last two years, perhaps much longer.

    Two years ago I passed on my concerns to the local police and RSPB asking both parties to look into the problem. I was told that the RSPB had no knowledge of this particular territory. I particularly asked that someone, either from the police or from the RSPB or both, should have a serious talk with the local shepherd, not to make accusation but to make sure the shepherd was left in no doubt the territory was now being regularly monitored in an attempt to discover what was happening.

    I still do not know if my advice was acted upon; what I do know if nothing is done the male eagle will most likely disappear and the territory will become abandoned.

  3. The report I heard this morning on BBC Radio 4 painted a very positive picture, no word from Goldie McEagle.

  4. I think Goldie McEagle needs to have a word with Henry to see if they can come up a plan for a 6 foot tall eagle to visit areas where there should eyries but birds keep ‘disappearing’.

  5. It’s good news that the population has increased, but we need to think beyond the uplands as potential Golden Eagle habitat. Satellite tracking has shown young birds visiting some untypically lowland areas in Scotland, and given that Golden Eagles now nest in Denmark and Skåne in Sweden (in essentially intensively farmed landscapes), there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to breed in lowland areas in Scotland and beyond, provided there are a few forests to nest in. Poor productivity on the grouse moors on the eastern and southern edges of the highlands is probably the main barrier to this happening.

  6. Drive up the A94 from Coupar Angus to Forfar and you will see on the left hand side of the road at the entrance to Kings of Kinloch two large stone eagles which would certainly be maneaters were they avian flesh and blood. On a more serious note, while the 2015 golden eagle story is at least a partial success let’s not allow it as a “good news” story to be a distraction from (in a moorland context) persecution of hen harriers and peregrines where this occurs.

  7. Dear Mark,

    Your constant focus upon the negative is becoming more wearing than ever.

    I really struggle with this concept of “there should be x number of eagles here or y numbers of hen harriers there”.

    Looked at historically, there should be corncrakes in every county and tree sparrows on every bird table. There should be corn buntings in every arable field and lapwings successfully breeding on every floodplain.

    The increase in Golden Eagles in the UK is great news – especially when you look at the State of Nature report and see that so many other iconic species continue to decline at such an alarming rate.

    Bore off!

    1. Ben – thank you for your comment. Since you are under no obligation to read my blog wouldn’t it make more sense if you left? I’m staying here thanks.

  8. I am struggling to understand how Golden Eagles could be considered to have favourable conservation status. An assessment for FCS should include both population and range. If eagles are not doing well in a key part of their range:central and eastern Highlands then how does that equate to FCS? The assessment seems to be entirely population based. Perhaps I am missing something.

  9. To answer the query from Iris, in a technical sense the golden eagle now has favourable conservation status on a NATIONAL basis. Again in a technical sense and stemming from the 2008 Golden Eagle Conservation Framework published by SNH, the golden eagle still does not have favourable conservation status throughout Scotland on a REGIONAL basis. Of the eight Regions used for reporting on the 2015 and three previous national golden eagle surveys, Regions A (East Highlands), B (Northern Moors and Flows) and C (North-central Highlands) do not enjoy favourable conservation status for this species.

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