Header image: Richard Tough

Scott Shanks, Conservation Officer, shares the exciting news of sea eagle breeding success on the east coast of Scotland.

Fife welcomes a new white-tailed sea eaglet

Local Fife celebrities ‘Turquoise 1’ (T1) and her mate ‘Turquoise Z’ (TZ), were the first white-tailed sea eagles to successfully breed on the east coast of Scotland for nearly 200 years. From 2013, their nests have been monitored by a team of dedicated RSPB volunteers and staff, but this year due to the Covid-19 lockdown that couldn’t happen, so three local volunteers stepped up and used their daily exercise to keep watch over the eagles’ nest. Despite a few some touch-and-go moments our sea eagles have done it again, and successfully produced a healthy male chick.

White-tailed sea eagles normally pair for life, but for the last few years male TZ has paired with another female ‘Red Z’ (RZ) in Angus. In 2017 he managed to successfully raise chicks with both females in Fife and Angus! It’s a huge effort just to fly the 28 miles between the two nests, let alone provide food for two chicks! There was excitement in early 2020 when the turquoise pair were spotted together in Fife at the start of the breeding season. It soon became clear that TZ had chosen to stay with his original mate this year.

sea eagle in flight

Turquoise 1. Credit: Richard Tough.

Hopes of rearing an eagle chick in Fife were almost dashed when rival female RZ turned up at the Fife nest in February, and again in April as the turquoise pair were incubating eggs! Luckily our Turquoise pair managed to quickly get back to incubating and after 38 days the adults could be seen feeding at least one fluffy chick.

In February a team of RSPB nest watch volunteers were ready to mobilise and a viewing hide had been built, when Covid-19 struck.  It was quickly decided that a nest watch wouldn’t go ahead, and the hide was taken down.

A small team of local volunteers vowed to keep a watchful eye on the nest during the pandemic while following government guidance. They shared the nest watch duties by cycling to the nest site and braving wild weather and hungry midgies to keep the nest safe.

The volunteers report that ‘Turquoise 1 was piercingly attentive throughout, sheltering the chick like an umbrella at times in the rain and hunting for fish, birds and mammals”

TZ was never far away. His wild cry could be heard before he would descend for a turn on the nest, bringing food parcels in his claws and tearing them into tiny pieces for the chick.

sea eagle and chick on nest

T1 and chick on nest. 

The new eaglet went from strength to strength. After some trials of standing up and falling over, he began gaining darker feathers and developing power in his legs as the adults looked on from nearby. The next phase of development for eaglets is to try out their wing feathers by jumping in the air and flapping their huge wings. This is called ‘trampolining’. Great exercise of the chick, but a real worry for the volunteers watching incase a gust of wind knocked the chick from the nest.

It was with much excitement that the watch team reported the chick had finally fledged in July!

eagle in flight with forest in background

Newly fledged sea eagle. Credit: Richard Tough

It’s been a very different year, on many levels, for the nest watchers. In past years volunteers have been able to watch the pair through a telescope from the relative comfort of a temporary hide put up well away from the nest. There has also been a large team of volunteers coordinated to watch the nest over many hours. Our three local volunteers this year experienced some extreme weather conditions with no shelter. The May sunshine was lovely, but it generated a heat haze which made focusing on the nest and the birds very difficult. The wind and rain weren’t any better, however the Fife midgies were the biggest challenge! However, in this time of uncertainty and often bad news it is a delight to be able to report the fledging of another chick from T1 and TZ. Well done Team Turquoise! Another success for the East of Scotland Sea Eagle Project.

Huge thanks are due to our three nest watch volunteers Richard, Elizabeth and Rosie who spent their spring and summer on eagle watch!