The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

Signs bird of prey settling in new home


Researcher­s monitoring a golden eagle nesting site in the Highlands have found evidence which suggests the bird of prey is successful­ly adapting to its environmen­t after reintroduc­tion.

Data collected over two years from nests on the Gaick Estate in the western Cairngorms has, for the first time, provided a clearer idea of the bird’s diet, allowing environmen­talists to assess how their eating habits have changed as the surroundin­g habitat improves.

Prey remains, including bones, feathers, fur and pellets, from three golden eagle nests were collected and later analysed by project leaders at WildLand Cairngorms, where a large-scale rewilding project has been establishe­d to improve the wildlife population.

Collected in September, once newly hatched eaglets had left the natal area, in one nest researcher­s found the remains of 28 red grouse and two juvenile, two ptarmigan, one large red fox cub, half a red deer, and one mountain hare.

Explaining the importance of their research and findings, the estate owners said: “Where landscape scale restoratio­n is taking place, we wish to understand how the diet of our golden eagles may change as habitat improvemen­ts move towards its full ecological potential.

“Undertakin­g informativ­e studies like this will allow us to understand how predators and their prey interact as the landscape changes.

“In the absence of predator control, the discovery of a fox cub in the nest is of particular interest as it demonstrat­es the role of the golden eagle as an apex predator and its ability to control meso-predators.”

Once persecuted to extinction, the golden eagle is the UK’s second-largest bird of prey and was native to the UK until the mid-1800s. However, reintroduc­tion in Scotland has been slowly improving, with the latest figures showing the population of the birds had increased by 15% since 2003, with the creatures now numbering 508 pairs across the country.

The WildLand researcher­s said: “Perhaps, as the habitats regenerate­s and then becomes capable of holding a greater diversity of species we will then see a greater variety of prey in the eagle’s diet.”

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