Friday, 23 August 2013

Golden Eagles breeding at three years old: a first for Scotland

For the first time ever in Scotland, two young Golden Eagles have been found to lay eggs at just three years old. Normally, Golden Eagles breed for the first time from four to six years old. Only once before has a three-year-old eagle been confirmed to lay eggs, and that was in southeast Spain.

This new information about the breeding behaviour of the species was discovered through a satellite-tagging project run by the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Natural Research and the RSPB. Two satellite transmitters were attached to young Golden Eagle in Galloway and Strathspey in July 2010. Two young females laid eggs this year, at just three years old, having mated with older males in the Scottish Borders and Aberdeenshire.

Golden Eagle, Mull from the Iris galleries © Brian Rains/Wild About Mull

Roy Dennis, Director of the Foundation commented, "This is very exciting, as it is the first proof in Scotland that Golden Eagles can breed here at three years. It shows that when they live in areas with plenty of food and little competition, can breed at an early age. Unfortunately, the eggs did not hatch but that is not surprising for such young individuals."

Professor Des Thompson of SNH, who chairs the group running the work added, "Both areas where these young Scottish eagles have bred were previously identified as having several unoccupied territories. Previous research has pointed to a link between persecution and younger Golden Eagles managing to secure territories and attempting to breed. The shortage of older females may explain why such young birds have managed to breed. Provided the right conditions now prevail - persecution free, good availability of prey, good weather, and appropriate habitat - then we hope that these birds will attempt to nest again next year and young will fledge. This would signal the start of an upturn of the fortune of Golden Eagles in these areas."

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