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Published on : 11th April 2018

Where to See the Golden Eagle in the UK

Golden Eagle

The golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, is one of UK’s most iconic animals. It is also included in Scotland’s Big Five along with the red deer, Eurasian otter, red squirrel and harbour seal.

Golden Eagle Population in the UK

According to reports, there are 508 breeding pairs of golden eagles in the UK as of 2016. This is a 15% increase from the 442 recorded in 2003. All of these pairs are found in Scotland. In 2015, England’s remaining golden eagle went missing and was presumed dead.

There was a time when goldies where found all over the UK. However, by the 18th century, their population greatly declined. In 1850, these raptors were no longer found in Wales and England.

Golden eagles live long, with some of them surviving for 25 years. Furthermore, they have no natural predators because of their massive size. However, this has not shielded them from other threats like human persecution. In the 18th century, sheep farmers and other livestock owners killed them because they feared that these raptors would prey on their animals. Then, in the 19th century, these eagles, which feed on grouse, became the targets of gamekeepers.

Despite the widespread persecution, some golden eagles remained in Scotland. But their population also took a beating because of pesticides. According to reports, exposure to organochlorine pesticides caused infertility in golden eagles which resulted in a drop in their breeding success.

Fortunately, projects were implemented to prevent these eagles from going extinct. Currently, golden eagles are highly protected species in the UK. Capturing and hunting them is punishable by law. The use of organochlorine pesticides was banned in the 1980s. This move paved the way for the recovery of the golden eagle population in Scotland.

Golden eagle in flight

With the 15% increase in their population, the future is looking bright for these raptors, according to conservationists. However, they continue to be absent in a third of their traditional territories. For example, in east Scotland, they are just inhabiting 30% of their known territories despite the abundance of food in these areas.

It is still not known why these eagles are low in numbers or absent in certain places. What’s certain is that the persecution of golden eagles continues despite the strong measures in place to prevent this from happening. Furthermore, the scarcity of food in certain areas like in the western Highlands has also hampered efforts to widen the reach of these eagles.

Where Can You See Golden Eagles in the UK?

In the UK, golden eagles are only found in Scotland. If you wish to get a glimpse of this beautiful eagle, you can either visit the highlands or the islands. One highly recommended place for wildlife watching is Knapdale Forest. Located in Argyll, Knapdale offers several good viewing points for spotting golden eagles. This place is also a famous destination for those who wish to spot Scotland’s Big Five.

Knapdale Forest

The islands located west of Scotland are also ideal spots. The Isle of Mull, in particular, is a well-known place for spotting both the golden eagle and the white-tailed eagle. The Eagle Observatory in the Isle of Harris is also worth checking out. Considered one of the UK’s golden eagle strongholds, Harris owns the distinction of having the highest breeding population of this eagle species in Europe. The Oa on Islay, with its breath-taking terrain, is another spot visited by those who wish to see birds like the golden eagle.

While the golden eagles are present all year round in the UK, the recommended time to see them is during spring and summer. During these seasons, the chance of spotting these iconic eagles is high. Meanwhile, in autumn, juvenile golden eagles may also be spotted flying along with the adults.

Spotting golden eagles is not easy. It requires expertise and a lot patience. This is why, if you truly want to get a glimpse of these majestic eagles, it is best to join wildlife tours. Some tours like the Big Five are specially designed for tourists to get a glimpse of animals like the golden eagle. Furthermore, these tours are led by experienced wildlife guides who can give you helpful tips for spotting these majestic birds.

If you are planning to go on an eagle-spotting trip, it is important for you to be observant and alert. Focus on the skyline, particularly between the ridges and hilltops. Stay in one spot for at least 30 minutes and scan the area every few minutes. Lastly, make sure you know the identifying features of golden eagles.

How to Identify Golden Eagles?

As mentioned earlier, spotting golden eagles is not a walk in the park. To the untrained eye, identifying them can be extremely challenging. In fact, many mistake buzzards for golden eagles. Due to how often they are misidentified, buzzards have earned the nickname “tourist eagle”.

So, how do you identify golden eagles? Below are some of the physical characteristics which sets apart goldies from white-tailed eagles, buzzards and other birds.

Adult golden eagles don dark brown plumage with lighter, golden-brown colouring on their head and neck, hence their name. This is, perhaps, their most distinct physical feature. Meanwhile, the young ones have rich chocolate brown plumage with noticeable white patches on the wings and tails. Their colour gradually changes and by the age of six, most juvenile goldies have adult plumage.

This eagle species is considered the second largest bird of prey in the UK. They have a wingspan of about 2.2 metres. Females are typically heavier than males. Their average weight is 3.8 to 6 kilograms, while males weigh between 2.8 to 5 kilograms.

The golden eagle has a large wingspan.

As previously mentioned, these eagles are fast flyers. They can fly at a speed of over 240 kilometres per hour. They hold their wings in a shallow V position as they soar and glide.

Sometimes, people confuse white-tailed eagles for goldies as well. Golden eagles have small heads and long tails. On the other hand, white-tailed eagles have long necks and short, wedge-like tail.

Just like other raptors, golden eagles have sharp talons and a strong beak that enable them to tear their prey’s flesh. Their speed, beak and talons are essential in their hunt for food. They have a diverse diet that may include insects, reptiles, mammals and birds. While most think that they only prey on small animals like rodents, hares and grouse, these raptors also attack and eat big animals like deer.

Golden eagle in flight photo by ahisgett

Knapdale Forest photo by uplandaccess

The golden eagle has a large wingspan photo by ahisgett



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