Efforts to reintroduce the white-tailed eagle to Ireland have paid off as a male eagle has bonded with a female and they have now produced two chicks together.
The male eagle, released in 2008, had previously partnered with, and produced chicks. However, the previous partner succumbed to avian flu and this male eagle had lived alone in East Clare for the past four years until he recently paired up with his new partner, a female eagle who was released in 2020.
Eamonn Meskell, who heads up the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) White-Tailed Eagle Reintroduction project, said the fact the male eagle has now found and bred with a new partner was “significant to our project but we’re also delighted to see this eagle that we know well make a new bond and start a new family.”
In addition, at another site in Co Clare, NPWS staff have in recent days observed and tagged three chicks reared by one of the male eagle’s offspring from his previous partner. This earlier offspring, a female eagle, has so far reared 10 chicks, which are spread around the island of Ireland, some of whom themselves are forming pairs.
“It is also incredible that one of his offspring is now herself rearing three chicks. This is a very rare occurrence, as a very small minority of nest sites – in Ireland, Norway or anywhere else – have more than two chicks on nest,” Mr Meskell said.
“This is the second year that three chicks are on the nest at this particular nest site. This shows how suited Ireland and our lakes are from a habitat and feeding perspective for this reintroduction project.”
The male eagle, who has found a new partner, was originally released in Killarney National Park in 2008 and set up territory with a female from that batch, eventually making a nest in the Lough Derg area.
In 2013, this pair nested successfully and fledged a pair of white-tailed eagle chicks – the first hatching and fledging of a white tailed eagle chick in more than 110 years in Ireland.
The same pair successfully fledged white tailed eagle chicks for the next four years until 2018, when the female of the pair died after contracting avian influenza. The male held the same territory without any mate for the next four years.
In 2020, 16 white-tailed eagle chicks were collected from the wild nests in Norway and sent to Ireland for the release programme that year.
A female chick from this group (B for Bernadine) released at a site in Lough Derg, flew back to Scotland after her release but returned to Ireland six months later and bonded with the widowed male.
They then set up a territory together, building a nest in February of this year on an island in Lough Derg. They subsequently mated and the female successfully hatched out one white-tailed eagle chick.
Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said the successful hatching “gives us great hope and encouragement for the project, which we always knew would take time and perseverance”.