The White-tailed Eagle is the UK’s largest raptor and an iconic species making a triumphant return.
Juvenile White-tailed Eagle
Pair of White-tailed Eagles sparring
Young White-tailed Eagle in nest
White-tailed Eagle in-flight
White-tailed Eagle walking in its natural habitat
White-tailed Sea-Eagle, Ern, Erne, Gray Sea Eagle, Eurasian Sea Eagle
Family:Kites, hawks and eagles
74cm to 92cm
193cm to 244cm
3.1kg to 6.9kg
The White-tailed Eagle is a massive bird of prey with a very large yellow bill and pale yellow feet and eyes. As their name suggests, these birds have a short but distinctive wedge-shaped white tail. The rest of their plumage is chocolate brown, although the head and neck are paler.
Females are significantly larger than males but otherwise difficult to distinguish. Juvenile White-tailed Eagles are relatively easy to identify by their dark bill and blackish plumage with pale armpit patches and whitish flecking. The young birds mature slowly, attaining their full adult plumage after about eight years.
The White-tailed Eagle is only likely to be confused with the Buzzard and the Golden Eagle. Buzzards are much smaller birds, with five (not six or seven) prominent primary feathers visible at the end of each wing when soaring. The Golden Eagle is very similar-sized but more shapely and longer-tailed in flight and shows a much smaller head when perched.
White-tailed Eagle perching on a branch
The White-tailed Eagle is a massive bird of prey, comparable only with the Golden Eagle in the UK.
White-tailed Eagles have a total length of 74 to 92 centimetres.
Female White-tailed Eagles weigh 3.7 to 6.9 kilograms. They are significantly heavier than their male counterparts, which weigh 3.1 to 5.4 kilograms.
The White-tailed Eagle’s broad wingspan is one of its most impressive features. These birds can measure as much as 2.44 meters (8 feet) between wing tips.
White-tailed Eagle hunting for fish
White-tailed Eagles produce a series of high-pitched notes when calling. They are most vocal in the nesting season when pairs may call together in a duet while perched or in flight.
Males and females produce different notes, and the female has a deeper voice. Apart from courtship, these birds also call in alarm or warning if their nest is approached.
White-tailed Eagle on a riverbank screeching
White-tailed Sea Eagles are carnivorous birds that take live prey and carrion. Fish and birds are their usual targets, although they will occasionally take small mammals. These eagles frequently swoop down to catch fish at the surface of the water, although they do not dive or immerse themselves.
They also hunt water birds and seabirds, either in flight or on the water. Eggs and chicks are taken in the breeding season, and they will also steal the prey from other fishing birds like the Osprey and Heron.
White-tailed Eagle chicks eat the same diet as their parents. A study in Lapland revealed that about two-thirds of their diet is fish, with most of the remainder being birds and a small percentage of mammals.
The chicks take up to three months to fledge the nest and rely on their parents for another month or so before they can independently feed themselves.
White-tailed Eagle feeding on a fish
The White-tailed Eagle usually lives near water, either on the coast or around larger inland lakes and rivers. They require cliffs or tall trees in forested areas for nesting.
These birds are largely restricted to the coast and lowlands of southern and eastern England but venture far inland in Scotland.
In the UK, White-tailed eagles are most numerous and widespread in Scotland. They have been introduced to the Isle of White and are now scarce but regularly seen on England’s south and east coast. They also occur on the west coast of Ireland.
Elsewhere, they are primarily restricted to Europe and Asia, where they are widespread from Iceland in the west to eastern Russia. There is also a resident population on the southwest coast of Greenland.
White Eagles live near the water. They spend most of their time perched (up to 90%), usually in an exposed position like a tree branch or rock, where they can rest and scan for prey.
White-tailed Eagle in-flight with misty hills in the background
White-tailed Eagles remain rare in the United Kingdom, with estimates of about 150 pairs. However, this figure does not include non-breeding birds.
The West Coast of Scotland is probably the best place to see White-tailed Eagles in the United Kingdom. Look out for them in the following hotspots:
Birders in England need not travel that far, however. White-tailed Eagles were recently reintroduced to the Isle of Wight and some continental birds may visit England’s eastern lowlands in the winter.
White-tailed Eagle in its natural habitat
White-tailed Eagles can live for up to 42 years in captivity, although the oldest wild bird survived for 27 years. They are a naturally long-lived species that only reach sexual maturity after five years.
Healthy adult White-tailed Eagles have no major predators, although their eggs and young could be vulnerable to corvids or other birds of prey if left unattended. Humans are their principal enemies, and these birds are particularly susceptible to shooting, intentional and accidental poisoning, and pollution.
White-tailed Eagles are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in the United Kingdom.
White-tailed Eagles are on the amber list in the United Kingdom, and their population is increasing thanks to reintroduction and conservation programs. The species is not considered endangered in the UK or globally and is formally assessed as a ‘Least Concern’ species according to the IUCN Red List.
Portrait of a White-tailed Eagle
White-tailed Eagles build their nests on sea cliffs or high in large trees. Their nest are platforms made mostly from twigs but lined with softer materials like wool and grass. They add on to their nests regularly, and they can become massive structures several meters across and equally deep.
White-tailed Eagles first breed when they are about five years old. In the UK, these birds lay their eggs in March and April and incubate them for about 38 days. The hatchlings spend 70 to 90 days in the nest before fledging.
White-tailed Eagles lay a single clutch of two plain white eggs. The eggs are large, measuring approximately 75 millimetres long and 57 millimetres wide.
White-tailed Eagles are monogamous birds that nest with the same partner for life. Skye and Frisa are a pair of eagles that demonstrate the devotion of their species. These two birds are the oldest White-tailed Eagle couple in the United Kingdom and have been together since 1997!
White-tailed Eagle chick feeding
Young White-tailed Eagle in the nest
White-tailed Eagles are not aggressive or dangerous toward humans unless provoked. However, they are territorial toward other eagles when nesting, and intruders will be attacked, sometimes with fatal consequences.
We may think of these birds as majestic hunters, but they are not above using aggression and intimidation tactics to get a free meal. These eagles will chase and harass other birds of prey into giving up their own hard-earned food.
White-tailed Eagles sleep in trees or on cliffs. Pairs often roost near their nest.
Pair of White-tailed Eagles in battle
White-tailed Eagles are migratory in some parts of their range but sedentary in others. The population in Western Europe does not migrate, while most of the birds that nest in Western and Central Asia migrate south for the winter.
White-tailed Eagles are native to the United Kingdom. They became extinct as a breeding bird in England by the early 1800s and in Scotland in the early 1900s. They have since been successfully reintroduced to Scotland, Ireland, and England.
White-tailed Eagle in-flight over a lake after catching its prey
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