It is with great sadness that we are finally able to announce that the young white-tailed eagle which fledged from the Fife nest in 2014 has come to grief. His carcase was recovered in April 2015 on farmland near Pitlochry, lying below an electricity distribution pole. “14White A” as he was known after the colour and letter on his wing tags, was fitted with a satellite transmitter which ceased to function, prompting a search of the wider area where he was last known to be spending time. A local farmer got in touch with project staff after finding the carcase on his land, and reading the contact information on the reverse of the wing tags. The carcase was recovered immediately by RSPB and Police Scotland staff who then submitted it for post mortem. Despite the circumstances suggesting electrocution as the obvious cause of death, the condition of the carcase made it difficult for this to be determined. As per protocol, the carcase was also tested for suspicious substances and for evidence of lead shot, but thankfully, all came back negative. Unfortunately, the nature of events that occurred around 14White A’s death will remain a mystery, but we are relieved and confident that there was no foul play to blame – simply a case of choosing the wrong place to perch!
Since the first birds were released in Fife in 2007, eight young white-tailed eagles (of 85 released) have succumbed to the same fate, which is also not uncommon on the continent - in Norway electrocutions and collisions with power lines are known to be the main cause of death for young white-tailed, especially juveniles and second year immatures. In Germany it accounts for 10% of white-tailed eagle deaths, and is a big contributor to white-tailed eagle mortality in Hungary. Historically, white-tailed eagles have coexisted closely with humans and in a modern landscape, it’s almost inevitable that threats such as electricity poles, wires and even train lines will have some effect on their survival.
In the early years of the East Scotland Sea Eagle project, Scottish Power very kindly adapted some electricity distribution poles and transformers in the immediate vicinity of the release site in order to help reduce such incidents in an area with a high number of young inexperienced birds.
We are extremely grateful to the farmer for getting in contact with us so quickly after finding the carcase, and we encourage anybody who comes across a carcase to get in touch as quickly as possible so that we are able to determine cause of death and better understand survival in our population.