White-tailed eagles are the UK’s largest bird of prey. They became extinct in the UK during the 20th century due to extensive habitat changes and illegal killing. They were reintroduced in the late 1970s and there are now more than 100 territorial pairs in Scotland. 

Maia, white-tailed eagle ambassador for the Ullapool Seas Savers, tells us why she loves this magnificent bird of prey.

The magnificent white-tailed eagle

Their amazing history

“I find it fascinating to hear about their incredible history. The fact that they went extinct is very sad, but I love that the re-introduction programme came in and saved them!”

They were first reintroduced on the west coast of Scotland in the 1970s, with the first pair breeding in 1983 and the first chick fledging in 1985. Thanks to two more phases of reintroduction, one in the 1990s in Wester Ross and another on the east coast of Scotland from 2007 – 2012, pairs have now been established on both coasts of Scotland. The population is slowly but continually rising. Find out more about the work being done to help this species here.

Their elegance

“They are elegant creatures with brilliant personalities. When they fly it is amazing how well they glide through the air like it is nothing at all. I would crash land into to a tree if I did that!”

Their flight is heron-like, with shallow flaps and glides at low levels, while at higher levels they soar with their wings held flat. In early spring, pairs may be seen doing an aerial courtship display; rising and falling, rolling, and even touching talons in flight.

Their impressive size

“Their wingspan is up to 8 feet long, which is astounding when you think about it. They are nicknamed ‘Flying Barndoors’ around here because they are so big!”

They are heavier and more bulky than golden eagles. Their wings are a broad, rectangle shape with ‘fingered’ tips. They have a large head with a huge, powerful bill which is often very noticeable, even in flight. They have brown body plumage, a pale head and neck, and white tail feathers.

Their opportunistic nature

“They are versatile, opportunistic feeders and scavengers – they eat a lot more things than just fish.”

As well as fish, they eat: rabbits, hares, other mammals, birds, carrion, scraps, and they will often rob other birds of their prey.

They pass on their skills to their young

“It is brilliant that they teach their young to fly and don’t just abandon them like some animals do – but it is a bit sad that they favour the stronger one. Nature can be very harsh sometimes."

Females lay 2-3 eggs between March and April, 2-5 days apart. Most of the incubation is done by the female and after approximately 38 days, the chicks hatch. Both parents feed the chicks. After around 70 days, the chicks will fledge.  


You can find out more about white-tailed eagles here.

Header image credit: Collage by Maia, white-tailed eagle ambassador