The na­ture of things

White-tailed ea­gle

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook -

THERE’S no mis­tak­ing the white-tailed or sea ea­gle. It is ‘what it says on the tin’—a con­sum­mate fish­er­man in spe­cific coastal wa­ters and lakes, with tail feath­ers ar­ranged into a pristinely white, apexed wedge.

Many ea­gles are gi­ants of the avian world and Hali­aee­tus al­bi­cilla is one of the largest among its kind, with an adult wing span of about 8ft, and sur­pris­ing agility, en­abling it to hunt at speed, whether for seabirds— such as kit­ti­wakes— or fish swim­ming near the sur­face of a deep sea-loch. Even the sup­per of an ot­ter may be au­da­ciously snatched from its grasp in a pi­rat­i­cal aerial ma­noeu­vre.

In each case, the long-taloned, yel­low claws stretch out from brown-pan­talooned legs to grasp its prey, per­haps to take back to the nest—a sturdy old Scots pine be­ing the ideal conif­er­ous pen­t­house, for these are coastal birds of the Scot­tish north-west, par­tic­u­larly Mull and Skye.

If con­di­tions are favourable, sea ea­gles can be very long-lived—more than 20 years is not un­com­mon, although at least one cap­tive bird has achieved its half-cen­tury. Yet, for most of the 20th cen­tury, they were ab­sent from Bri­tain, hav­ing been hunted to ex­tinc­tion by 1918. Their slow and painstak­ing rein­tro­duc­tion since the mid 1970s means that these spec­tac­u­lar aerial ac­ro­bats once again have a foothold on Bri­tish shores. KBH

Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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