A female white-tailed eagle was found dead at a nest site in Connemara earlier this month by National Parks and Wildlife Service Conservation Ranger Dermot Breen.
Mr Breen found the six-year-old female dead on the nest on 01 April, and a post-mortem later confirmed poisoning as the cause of death — the 13th confirmed poisoning fatality since the white-tailed eagle reintroduction programme began in 2007.
Released in Killarney, Co. Kerry in 2009, this female settled in the Roundstone area of Connemara in 2012, where she paired up with a male bird. The pair made an unsuccessful breeding attempt last year (not uncommon for first-time breeders), and were all set to try again this year when tragedy struck. The post mortem confirmed that the female bird had two developing eggs inside her, and was on the verge of laying.
The Golden Eagle Trust, who coordinate the reintroduction programme, described the loss as a “serious blow” to the project.
“This is a very disheartening incident as the killing of this breeding female has effectively put an end to any breeding attempt of this incredible species in West Galway for at least another five years,” said Dermot Breen. “To see the female lying dead on her nest was a very sad and sickening sight, especially with the knowledge that she would have been due to lay two eggs.
“Historically up to 14 pairs were known to have bred in the Connemara region up to 1838. Connemara lost its white-tailed eagles shortly after this with the introduction of poison. It’s deeply frustrating to see history repeating itself. I’ve encountered no negative feedback from any local farmers with regard to the presence of the eagles over the last three years. Many landowners would ask how the eagles were doing and would tell me if they had been lucky enough to see them in the locality. The loss of this female is also a great loss to tourism in the area. Connemara is world renowned for being an area of unspoilt beauty. Unfortunately this illegal and irresponsible action is likely to tarnish Connemara’s green image, an area that relies heavily on tourism.”
White-tailed Eagles reach maturity at about 5 years of age, and seven pairs of reintroduced birds laid eggs in 2014. Only one of those pairs successful reared a chick — the pair nesting near Mountshannon in Co. Clare, but experts hoped the Connemara pair would be among a number of successful breeding attempts in 2015.
“Although all losses impact the project, the loss of this female is very difficult to take,” said Dr, Allan Mee, Project Manager with the Golden Eagle Trust. “She and her mate had been resident in Connemara for the last four years and it was only a matter of times before they produced chicks. It is likely the nest site they chose had been used by white-tailed eagles in historical times, so losing this pair is devastating.”
While the male eagle may stay on at the breeding territory for a time, according to Dr Mee the loss of a breeding adult usually results in the remaining bird eventually deserting the area, and it could be several years before the lone male pairs up and attempts to breed again.