The oldest golden eagle ever recorded in Britain has been found dead in the Highlands aged 18 – and may have died after a fight with a love rival.
The bird’s carcase was found close to a nest on a cliff at Forsinard, Caithness – just 36 miles away from where it was ringed in a nest as a chick in 1997.
The RSPB said poisoning had been ruled out as the cause of death and the most likely explanation was that the ageing eagle succumbed to injuries inflicted by a younger bird, which then took its mate and territory.
The charity’s Stuart Benn said: “This is the longest-lived golden eagle ever recorded in Britain. The previous record was just over 16.
“The body, which was tagged, was found by an RSPB worker during a survey of nesting sites in June, on open ground about 100 yards away from the nest which was on a cliff.
“Analysis shows there was no trace of poisons or pesticides.
“What we think happens to young golden eagles is that they wander around for four to five years after they leave the territory they fledged in, flying around Scotland and seeing what’s what.
“Most of the good eagle territories in Scotland have got a pair already who tends to be there year after year. The feeling is that a young bird will only be able to move in when one of the adults either dies or is ousted.
“We think that may have happened in this case – given that it was 18 years old, I’d be surprised if the older bird was the wandering individual. It’s more likely that it was one of the territorial birds and the younger one came in. It does happen, not just with golden eagles – it happened with the ospreys at Boat of Garten.
“Eagles have some pretty impressive armoury on them and if you pierce an organ that can kill. We can’t say for certain this is what happened, but that’s the most likely explanation. Fighting for territory or a mate – it comes to the same thing.”