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First Irish white-tailed eagle chicks fledge at Mountshannon, Co. Clare

White tailed eagle fledgling at Mountshannon, Co. Clare
First flight: a white tailed eagle fledgling takes to the air above the waters of Lough Derg, in Co. Clare. (Photo by Nigel Beers Smith)

Irish born white-tailed eagles are on the wing again for the first time in more than a century.

A pair of reintroduced adult eagles successfully reared two chicks at a nest site on Lough Derg, near Mountshannon, Co. Clare. Both chicks fledged successfully last week in what is a momentous milestone for the high profile white-tailed eagle reintroduction programme, which began back in 2007 with the release of young Norwegian eagles in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry.

“This day has been six years in the making but to witness the first flight of a wild Irish-bred White-tailed Eagle here in Mountshannon was a fabulous moment”, said Dr. Allan Mee, project manager for the Golden Eagle Trust. “These two young eagles represent the first of what we hope are many more Irish bred White-tailed Eagles to fledge from nests over the next few years and themselves form the basis for a viable self-sustaining Irish population.”

“I am truly delighted with this news, marking a great step forward in this ambitious project. It is a joy to see these magnificent birds of prey being reintroduced in Ireland. Congratulations to all involved in Killarney and Clare. My wish now is that these young eagles will have a long life in our skies,” said Jimmy Deenihan, T.D., The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

According to the Golden Eagle Trust there are currently at least 10 pairs of reintroduced eagles holding breeding territories between Co. Cork and Co. Galway, and they expect them all to begin breeding over the coming years. Three pairs attempted to breed this year: two in Co. Kerry, and the Mountshannon pair in Clare.

Young breeding eagles are prone to failure as they “learn the ropes” and develop the skills required to rear chicks successfully. One nest in Kerry failed during the incubation phase, a second Kerry pair with a single chick was doing well when disaster struck. The nest collapsed, killing the chick which was on the verge of fledging. The Mountshannon pair, which attempted to breed unsuccessfully last year, had better luck this time around… but it wasn’t all plain sailing for the young eagles.

As part of a plan to both augment security at the site and boost public awareness of the project the Golden Eagle Trust installed a camera near the nest and removed some branches to allow for remote monitoring and viewing of the chicks from the lough shore. Unfortunately the move triggered a negative response from the parent birds, which would subsequently only fly near the nest without  landing to feed the well-grown chicks. The team monitoring the nest had to provide food for the chicks for the intervening time until they successfully fledged and re-united with their parents.

The Golden Eagle Trust expects the two chicks are to stay around the islands and western shoreline of Lough Derg, north and south of Mountshannon, over the coming weeks with their parents.  These young birds will leave their parents’ territory during the autumn to begin a 3-4 year nomadic existence before they hopefully pair up with other eagles, settle into their own territories and attempt to breed themselves.

Read the Golden Eagle Trust account of this story here.

Photo Credit: Nigel Beers Smith — used with permission via the Mountshannon White Tailed Sea Eagles page on Facebook

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