Eagles in the UK

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Seeing eagles in the wild in the United Kingdom is a rare but breathtaking experience. Conservation efforts are underway, particularly in regions such as the Isle of Mull, the Isle of Wight, the Scottish Highlands, and other specific areas. This article explores the two primary species of eagles found in the UK: the White-tailed Eagle and the Golden Eagle. We will delve into their characteristics, the history of their decline and resurgence, and the ongoing conservation challenges they face.

1. White-tailed Eagles (Sea Eagles)

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus albicilla

Life Span: Up to 25 years in the wild
Size: 2.5 to 3 feet (75-90 cm)
Weight: 4 to 6.7 kg (8.8 to 14.8 pounds)
Wingspan: 6.4 to 8.2 feet (195-250 cm)
Population (UK): About 150 breeding pairs
Status: Red List of UK birds of conservation concern

Appearance and Diet

White-tailed eagles are known for their impressive size and distinctive features. Juvenile eagles have black-brown plumage with a dark head, bill, eyes, and tail. As they mature, their plumage lightens, with adults displaying brown body plumage, pale heads and necks, and characteristic white tails. They have striking hooked yellow beaks, golden eyes, and yellow legs and talons.

These eagles are often seen soaring above coastal areas, inland lakes, and rivers, as their diet primarily consists of fish. They also hunt other birds and small mammals when necessary.

History of Extinction and Reintroduction

Before the 20th century, white-tailed eagles were common throughout the UK. However, due to relentless persecution and hunting, they were driven to extinction by the early 20th century. The last known breeding pair in Scotland was shot in 1916, and the last individual was killed in Shetland in 1918.

Reintroduction efforts began in 1975, with chicks from Norway being released on the Isle of Rum. Despite the success of these efforts, the eagles face numerous challenges, including illegal hunting, habitat loss, and low breeding success rates. Conservation organizations continue to work tirelessly to protect these magnificent birds and their habitats.

2. Golden Eagle

Scientific Name: Aquila chrysaetos

Life Span: 20-30 years in the wild
Size: 2.2 to 2.8 feet (66-86 cm)
Weight: 3 to 6.7 kg (6.6 to 14.8 pounds)
Wingspan: 6 to 7.5 feet (180-230 cm)
Population (UK): About 500 breeding pairs
Status: Green (no serious conservation concerns)

Appearance and Diet

Golden eagles are slightly smaller than white-tailed eagles. Juveniles have dark brown plumage with white patches on the wings and tail base. As they mature, they develop a distinctive golden or reddish-brown nape, which gives them their name. Their eyes are a piercing yellow.

These eagles prefer hunting birds and mammals over fish and will also consume carrion. They are powerful predators, adept at taking down sizeable prey.

Decline, Reintroduction, and Current Status

Golden eagles faced significant declines due to habitat loss, persecution, and pesticide use. By the early 20th century, they had vanished from England and Wales, surviving only in remote parts of the Scottish Highlands. Reintroduction programs helped to stabilize their population in Scotland, where they now thrive.

In England, golden eagles have struggled to reestablish themselves. The last known golden eagle in England disappeared in 2016. Occasional sightings, such as a female visiting from Southern Scotland in 2021, offer hope that these majestic birds might one day return to England.

Challenges and Conservation Efforts

Both eagle species face ongoing threats from illegal persecution, habitat loss, and other human activities. Despite legal protections, some hunters continue to illegally kill these birds, particularly on grouse moors and hunting estates.

Conservation efforts are vital to ensure the survival of eagles in the UK. Organizations work to protect habitats, monitor eagle populations, and educate the public about the importance of these apex predators. Reporting suspicious activities and supporting conservation initiatives are essential actions for anyone who wishes to help protect these magnificent birds.


Eagles in the UK have faced a tumultuous history, from near extinction to cautious resurgence. While white-tailed eagles have made a successful comeback, golden eagles continue to face significant challenges. Ongoing conservation efforts are crucial to protect these iconic birds and ensure they remain a part of the UK’s natural heritage.

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