My name is Iain Malzer, I’m a student from Glasgow University and have been conducting a project on the behaviour of the White-tailed Eagles released this year in the East Coast. With help from Claire, I have been analysing video footage recorded at food dump to try and gain an insight into the secret social life’s of these birds. White-tailed Eagles often communally roost, especially during the winter, they also form strong pair bonds between sexes even before sexual maturity and so an understanding of the social interactions or hierarchy is important when acting to conserve or study these birds. They can also be very fun to watch!
As expected for this time of year, the 2010 birds have begun to disperse to all corners of Scotland and are using the food dump less and less. This has allowed me to examine the back log of video footage collected since the birds were released in August and finally see just who’s been in charge around the food dump.
This has to be yellowH, one of the largest females to be released on the east coast yet. When on the food dump she aggressively protects the meat from all of the other eagles, insistently intimidating them with her wings stretched wide or just flying at them so fast they have no choice but to get out the way. One early morning in September birds yellow2, yellow7 and yellowO were feeding in perfect harmony, each with their own piece of venison when all their eyes turn to the sky as yellowH crashes in like a bullet, knocking O clean of the side of the food dump. H then stands for five minutes before flying off without touching any meat. A great display of dominance and aerial finesse.
The greatest numbers of fights have taken place between yellowH and another large female, yellow2. These two are often seen having scraps over small pieces of food. These scraps, however, can quickly escalate into full scale brawls with one bird pinning the other upside-down using their huge yellow talons. Don’t be alarmed though, when the wing flapping has stopped and the feathers have settled, the two birds normally seem relatively unfazed and get back on with feeding, having agreed to disagree.
A small male, yellowO, taken from a nest of triplets in Norway unfortunately seems to bare the brunt of the abuse. Throughout the whole of September he persistently tried to feed while being chased, bombarded and intimidated by the larger, grumpier, females. Lucky there was always an excess of food at the dump meaning his perseverance always paid off in the end with a long feed. By mid October he seemed to have had enough and has not been seen around the food dump for a while, his signal being picked up around Angus.
One sunny afternoon in October I was tracking the birds around the food dump, when I heard the sound of beating wings overhead. The female yellow2 and a male yellow7 were circling overhead. I decided to eat lunch while watching them play in the air together, riding the updrafts from slopes below and calling to each other. Now having watched back the food dump footage I have noticed these two are often seen feeding together with only the occasional disagreement. Perhaps love is in the air? Although, they’ll have to wait at least 5 years until breeding, unfortunately!
I will post again here with any updates on the project or anything interesting I see while working with the East coast Sea Eagles.
October sees the start of 'talks season' as local groups start their winter programmes, so its a chance to get out and about and tell people about the project. I was also invited along to our local Tayside Wildlife explorer's group, some of the members were so good at radio-tracking that I am fearing for my job!
The next project talk is on the 17th November, Lockerbie town hall at 7:30pm with the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust.
Turquoise Z and turquoiseX have been putting in regular appearances at Vane farm with good views from the cafe and turquoiseZ has also been popping into the release wood to see some of this year's birds who are still roosting nearby. They are taking very little food from the food dump now which we are only stocking once a week and have moved onto wildfowl and rabbits, this is good news as it means our rehabiltated bird yellow3 is also catching her own food again and fending fro herself and has been spotted hunting 3km away. TurquoiseK has moved north up into Deeside near Loch Muich. Although the winter weather can make fieldwork a bit more difficult for myself and volunteers there are currently plenty of grallochs around for the eagles to scavenge and winter sees an increase in the amount of carrion about.
Dave Taylor, field teacher at Vane Farm and spotted yellowC one of our females in Glen Devon on Halloween and manged to get some great photos and yellowE has been back at Meikle Loch, and is looking quite settled in the North East where a five year old west coast bird has also recently been spotted. Of our 14 surviving 2010 birds 4 are still in Fife and yellowZ has been on the southside of the Forth.
Two of our 2009 birds are currently on Mull, turquoiseO (male) being spotted near Garmony by visitors John & Liz Barker as tehy caught the ferry and turquoise1 (female) has been spotted with a couple of west coast birds including a 2008 fledging from Argyll. Many thanks to Irene Boston for the photo and sighting and turquoise1 also made an appearance on Autumnwatch with Dave Sexton on Mull which can still be watched on the iplayer.