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White-tailed sea eagles: 16 seen together on Mull ‘like a glimpse from the distant past’

White-tailed sea eagles Mull
Five of the group of 16 White Tailed Sea Eagles spotted in one area on Mull.

Are they plotting something sinister? Perhaps it’s just a community meeting.

Or maybe this group of white-tailed sea eagles photographed on Mull have just heard about social distancing restrictions being lifted?

In all seriousness, it is uncommon to get five of these birds in one picture.

But this quintet was actually only a small representation of the 16 sea eagles spotted at the same location at that time.

A sea eagle at Pennyghael Stores.

The photograph was taken outside Pennyghael Stores at Kinloch on the Ross of Mull last month.

It was captured by Bryan Rains, who runs Wild About Mull wildlife tours on the island.

Wife Joy Rains runs the village store and shared the image, along with another few crackers, on the store’s Facebook page.

Mrs Rains said: “Isn’t it fantastic? They are half a mile away. You could stand on a big stone and see all 16 sea eagles sitting at the top of Loch Beg, if you knew where to look.

Sea eagles near Pennyghael Stores.

“If you stepped out the shop and looked right, they were all sitting at the head of the loch.

“It is just very unusual. Sometimes you get groups of four or eight but not all the same time.

“People were asking if it was true; I wouldn’t lie about it.

“It is unusual to get five in one photograph but to see 16 in one place is unheard of.”

She said they see the sea eagles outside the store on most days.

It’s almost as if they come down to get away from the wife and have a cool off in the loch.”

Mrs Rains added: “There are quite a few of them on the island now. We have a couple of nests locally.

“It is almost as if they come down to get away from the wife and have a cool off in the loch.

“The whole island has a lot of wildlife. We see lots of interesting things.”

White-tailed sea eagles Mull
A pair of sea eagles hatched on the Isle of Mull made history as they explored their new home on the south coast of England.

Displayed in the shop is a recent sightings board that tells customers about the local birdlife.

At the moment it states: “White-tailed sea eagle, golden eagle, green shank, red shank, drumlin, snipe, crossbills, turnstones, ringed plover.”

‘Man wiped them out’

Dave Sexton, RSPB Scotland’s Mull officer, said: “The recent gathering of 16 sea eagles on Mull is like a glimpse from the distant past, when such a sight would have been normal across the UK.

“It’ll hopefully also become a more common sight in the future. Like their close cousins – bald eagles in North America – sea eagles are highly sociable birds and they often gather together at roosts and at a food supply.

White-tailed sea eagles Mull
A white-tailed sea eagle in flight.

“We are just not used to seeing sights like this since man wiped them out last century.

“It doesn’t mean there are too many of them, as some like to claim; it’s just what they do and as the population slowly recovers, it will become one more amazing wildlife spectacle that Scotland has to offer.”

‘They made their own way here’

White-tailed sea eagles were reintroduced in Scotland on Rum from 1975 to 1985, after the last bird was shot in Shetland in 1918.

The second phase of the reintroduction was in Wester Ross in the mid-1990s. The third and final phase for Scotland was in Fife from 2007 to 2013.

Mr Sexton said: “They were never actually released on Mull. They made their own way here from Rum in the late ’70s to early ’80s.

“They have just come here because it is so nice.

“The first nest was on Mull in 1985.”

White-tailed sea eagle facts

  • They used to nest from the south coast of England to Shetland, when they were very common and widespread.
  • Persecuted to extinction by man: last pair bred on Skye in 1916; last known bird shot in Shetland in 1918.
  • The three Scottish reintroduction phases used Norwegian chicks.
  • One English reintroduction is under way on the Isle of Wight, 2019-23, using Scottish chicks
  • In Scotland there are now 150 pairs nesting.

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