The nature of things
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