Scottish west coast sea eagle chicks killed by bird flu

Scottish west coast sea eagle chicks killed by bird flu

Fears have arisen that Scotland’s white-tailed sea eagle population could be ravaged by bird flu after dead chicks tested positive for the virus.

RSPB Scotland said a baby mull – a key breeding ground for the UK’s largest bird of prey – had avian flu.

The charity said other puppies were found dead from the virus in other parts of Scotland’s west coast.

Bird flu killed hundreds of other bird species across Scotland.

Seabird colonies in Orkney, Shetland, Firth of Forth, Argyll, Western Isles and Highlands were severely affected.

RSPB Scotland and public body NatureScot are investigating fatalities among 19 puppies born in Mull this year.

Specialists wearing protective suits climbed 40-foot-tall Sitka spruces to reach the nests.

One chick found dead tested positive for bird flu, while two other chicks were too decomposed to be sampled.

Dave Sexton of the RSPB said: “Late summer is often an amazing time of year for white-tailed Mull’s eagles as youngsters develop and learn to defend themselves – a happy time for those of us involved in monitoring them during their first few months.

“These last few weeks have been heartbreaking with so many girls dying.

“Visiting nest after nest where, instead of hearing young birds calling, there is silence, and where adult birds ignore my presence rather than alarm, is horrible.”

Sexton told BBC radio’s Good Morning Scotland program that his biggest concerns were if bird flu would repeatedly affect breeding seasons and start killing adult birds.

He said Scotland’s sea eagle population could be in “big trouble” as it only has around 150 breeding pairs.

Mull is home to the UK’s oldest white-tailed sea eagles – Skye and Frisa, who are around 30 years old and have been companions for 25 years.

Sexton said it looked like the couple’s 25th girl had escaped the virus.

He said: “My only heartening moment in all of this was finding Skye and Frisa’s 25th chick alive and well and flying confidently. I can only hope she survives and the adult birds on Mull remain unchanged.”

Map

Map

White-tailed eagles were once found widely across Scotland, but persecution led to their extinction in 1918.

A reintroduction program began on the Isle of Rum in 1975 and in 1985 the first wild calf of this reintroduced population was born on Mull.

In 2020, a pair of sea eagles successfully bred in Royal Deeside for the first time in 200 years.

The two chicks fledged after the couple made their nest on the Sea Estate in Aberdeenshire.

They were named Victoria and Albert.

sea ​​eagle

The white-tailed sea eagle is the largest bird of prey in the UK

And last year, sea eagles were seen on Loch Lomond for the first time in over 100 years.

Adult white-tailed sea eagles can have a wingspan of up to 2.4 m (8 ft) and feed on fish and dead animals such as deer carcasses.

However, some tenants and farmers have reported lambs being captured by sea eagles. Earlier this year, Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil called for a culling to control bird numbers to protect livestock.

NatureScot runs the sea eagle management scheme, which gathers evidence of the effects of eagles on livestock and provides equipment to scare the birds away.

The scheme’s other mitigation measures include diversionary feeding – providing meat and fish in a location away from livestock.

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