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.”