Young eagles on the west coast of Scotland have been killed by bird flu

Fears have been raised that Scotland’s sea eagle population could be decimated by bird flu after dead chicks tested positive for the virus.

RSPB Scotland said a chick in Mull – an important breeding area for the UK’s largest bird of prey – was found to have bird flu.

The charity said other chicks had been found dead with the virus elsewhere on the west coast of Scotland.

Bird flu has killed hundreds of other bird species across Scotland.

Seabird colonies in Orkney, Shetland, the Firth of Forth, Argyll, the Western Isles and the Highlands have been badly affected.

The RSPB of Scotland and public organization NatureScot have investigated the casualties among 19 chicks hatched on Mull this year.

Experts wearing protective clothing climbed 12-meter-tall Sitka spruce trees to reach nests.

One chick found dead tested positive for bird flu, while two other hatchlings were too decomposed to be sampled.

The RSPB’s Dave Sexton said: “Late summer is usually an incredible time of year for Mull’s white-tailed eagles as the young fly and learn to fend for themselves – a happy time for those of us involved in early bird watching. their months.

“But these past few weeks have been heartbreaking with so many chicks dying.

“Visiting nest after nest where, instead of hearing young birds calling, there is silence, and where the adult birds ignore my presence instead of being alarmed, it’s awful.”

Mr Sexton told BBC radio’s Good Morning Scotland program that his big concerns were if bird flu was repeatedly affecting breeding seasons and starting to kill adult birds.

He said Scotland’s sea eagle population could be in “big trouble” as it only had about 150 breeding pairs.

Mull is home to the UK’s oldest white-tailed sea eagles – Skye and Frisa, who are both around 30 years old and have been mates for 25 years.

Mr Sexton said it appeared the couple’s 25th chick had escaped the virus.

He said: “My only emotional moment in all this was finding Skye’s 25th chick and Frissa alive and well and flying confidently. I can only hope that she survives and that the adult birds on Mull continue to be unaffected .”

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White-tailed eagles were once widely found throughout Scotland, but persecution led to their extinction in 1918.

A reintroduction program began on the Isle of Rum in 1975 and in 1985 the first wild chick from this reintroduced population hatched on Mull.

In 2020, a pair of sea eagles successfully bred on Royal Deeside for the first time in 200 years.

The two chicks fledged after the pair nested on the Mar Estate in Aberdeenshire.

They were named Victoria and Albert.

Sea eagle

White-tailed sea eagles are the UK’s largest bird of prey

And last year, sea eagles were spotted in Loch Lomond for the first time in more than 100 years.

Adult white-tailed sea eagles can have a wingspan of up to 2.4 meters (8 ft) and feed on fish and dead animals such as deer carcasses.

However, some breeders and ranchers have reported lambs being taken by sea eagles. Earlier this year, Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil called for a cull to control the number of birds to protect animals.

NatureScot runs the Sea Eagle Management Programme, which collects data on the effects of eagles on animals and provides equipment to scare away the birds.

The program’s other mitigation measures include diversion feeding – providing meat and fish at a location away from the animals.

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