Iona and Fingal, our pair of white-tailed eagles at Mull Eagle Watch, are being brilliant parents as we reach the end of the 38 incubation period (1st egg due to hatch 6th or 7th May). Iona is doing the larger share of nest-sitting: spending long hours sat keeping the eggs warm, occasionally standing up, tucking her talons into her feet to avoid damaging the eggs, and fussing over them to make sure they are incubating evenly. Fingal has been bringing in small prey items, and taking over sitting on the eggs to allow Iona to fly off the nest, stretch her wings, preen and fly off to feed. We have also been seeing them disappearing down to the adjacent burn to drink or bathe. Fingal has been very protective too, making sure no ravens, buzzards or other birds that could threaten the eggs, get anywhere near the nest. He has also been keeping last years juvenile, Orion, and a sub-adult bird that is obviously a previous years chick, away from the immediate vicinity of the nest, but letting them rest close-by.
Tomorrow, we hope to be seeing the distinctive behaviour of the adults prior to the first egg hatching: listening to the chick calling within the egg, and the female salivating in preparation for delicately giving the chick its first feed. Hopefully we will see the head of the small white chick above the nest rim, and then we will wait with fingers crossed to see whether other chicks hatch over the next few days. It will then usually be a 10-12 week fledging period.
Unfortunately, our good weather has broken this week and Monday was a day of rain and wind. The forecast for the rest of the week is not good either and this does not bode well for the emerging chicks. Iona and Fingal are very experienced parents, however, and will keep the chick(s) warm and dry whatever the weather. The new nest is also in a more sheltered location than last year too, deep in the cup of the broken top of a spruce tree, well out of the prevailing wind that rocked last years nest.
We are still getting excellent views of golden eagles too, except on the wet and windy days when all self-respecting eagles are sat tight on the nest or roosting in a sheltered location on a tree or ledge. In particular we have two sub-adult birds that are often soaring and performing aerial displays together: perhaps a prospective new pair for next year.
At the end of last week we could hear several ravens cronking, and noticed that a sheep had died in one of the clearings in the wood. When we managed to set telescopes up on the carcase, we immediately saw that one of the adult white-tailed eagles was stood on it feeding, keeping a small group of ravens and hooded crows at bay. Once it had had its fill, it flew up into a tree top near the nest and the ravens moved in to feed. By the end of the weekend there was just a mass of wool and bones remaining.
Visitors to Mull Eagle Watch this year have been unanimously in favour of our new regime of watching the new nest location from the hide, especially as we get so many good views of eagles flying above the forest and over the nearby moorland. If you are visiting Mull this summer, or are a resident on the island, do come along and visit Rachel and myself to learn more about the magnificent wildlife of the isle of Mull. Trips are 10am and 1pm each weekday and last 2 hours. We charge £8 for adults, £4 for children (family of 4 £20) while it is free for Mull, Iona and Ulva residents. To book ring 01680 812 556 or call into the Visit Information Centre at Craignure. A large proportion of the money raised is given to the local community in the form of grants from the Eagle Fund - we have raised nearly £60,000 so far.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654