Golden Eagle Project
This documentary was first broadcast on RTÉ Radio One, on
Wednesday, November 7th 2001 at 8:02pm.
Listen to the documentary.
Presented by Dr. Richard Collins
Produced by Derek Mooney
Thursday August 9th was
a historic day for nature conservation in Ireland, when six Golden
Eagle chicks were released to the wild at Glenveagh National Park
in County Donegal. The eagles had been flown from Aberdeen to
Carrickfin Airport, Donegal in a chartered plane on June 27th,
courtesy of Enterprise Oil and then taken by road to
are the first birds to be imported from Scotland, in the Irish
Raptor Study Group's bid to re-introduce the Golden Eagle to
Ireland almost a century after it had been rendered extinct. The
eagles were met at their new home in Glenveagh by Dúchas
Minister Síle de Valera. The media turned out in force, with
four TV crews, a battalion of press photographers and a host of
well-wishers from all over the county.
Richard Collins, of Mooney Goes Wild, joined the Golden
Eagle re-introduction team, when they collected some of the young
eagles from Scottish eyries. John Marsh and Lorcan O'Toole of the
Irish Raptor Study Group were licensed to take up to 15 young birds
to Ireland this year. Over the next five years, about 75 chicks
will be brought to Ireland. The eyries which provided the chicks
were located earlier in the season by Scottish volunteers and eagle
2001 season was a very bad one for Golden Eagles in Scotland and
the numbers breeding successfully were low. A bird can be taken
only from eyries in which there are two surviving chicks. Eagles
usually lay two eggs. The eggs are laid three or four days apart
and incubation begins with the first one. The first chick,
therefore, has a head start on the younger sibling. The older chick
persecutes the younger one and, in 80% of cases, kills it. This is
known as the Cain and Able Syndrome. It means that about one in
five eyries will fledge two chicks.
few nests this year, the team had to travel the length and breadth
of the highlands to obtain birds. Although based at Inverness on
the east coast, there have been visits to Wester Ross, other west
coast locations and the Central Highlands. The most remote
location, which provided a chick, was the Isle of Skye.
long daylight length of late June helped the capture programme.
This is particularly pronounced in the north of Scotland. There is
even some light at midnight, allowing the team to stay well up on
the mountains until after ten at night.
Eagles nest on cliffs and usually in the most inaccessible places. To do this
work, Lorcan had to undergo training in rock climbing. He usually
headed for the top of the cliff, roped up and absailed down to the
nest. Most of the chicks, however, were easy to handle. They
'reared up' a little in defence but did not get too distressed.
Each selected chick was put into a hold-all bag and hauled to the
summit on a rope. Lorcan ringed the remaining chick at each eyrie
young eagles were taken to a holding centre at Inverness. There the
birds were given plenty of fresh rabbit to eat. The centre is in a
quiet rural (and secret) location where disturbance is minimal. At
this age, baby eagles do not quarrel. Nor are they brooded at night
by their parents, so sitting around in the centre waiting for their
next meal is just what they would be doing if they had remained in
the wild (except that the view from the eyrie in the wild is so
much more exciting!).
Glenveagh, the eagles were installed in specially prepared pens.
The pens resembled wild eagle eyries with nests of sticks and a
view of the terrain. To the baby eagles, the scene would not differ
greatly from the one they left in Scotland. The pens were at a
secret location in the park. It is most important that the eagles
do not become tame and lose their fear of man. Therefore, it was
essential that the birds seldom, if ever, encountered people. They
did not even see the hand that fed them: their food being dropped
to them through a sleeve just as food would be dropped on the nest
by a natural parent.
prior to release, radio transmitters were fitted to the birds. The
transmitters, which are very expensive, are loosely fitted like a
knapsack on the bird's back. The expense is justified given the
wealth of information that the little radios provide. The
whereabouts of the eagles can be determined by scanning the horizon
with a hand held antenna and moving in the direction of the
strongest signal. The radios, when the signal is not blocked by
obstacles such as hills, can be pick up 10km to 15km away from the
bird. The batteries in the units have a five year life.
The babies were weighed, measured and
pronounced fit and well. Then the doors of their cages were opened
leaving them free to come and go as they pleased. Some of the birds
left the cages quickly, others lingered for a while.
still being provided at feeding stations in the park. For the first
few days the eagles did not take the food. Perhaps they had already
eaten so much in captivity that they did not require more. In the
wild the parent stop feeding the young shortly before they
monitoring shows that five of the birds are well. Food is still
being provided at feeding stations but Lorcan thinks that they are
hunting and feeding normally in the wild. The Mooney Goes
Wild team watched one such bird quartering the ground. It
plunged into the heather occasionally as if in pursuit of a rodent
or a rabbit, although it was not seen to catch anything.
the birds are staying close to their release area. One bird stopped
moving about and Lorcan was able to locate it using its radio
signal. The casualty was alive when found but very badly. It had
extensive injuries to its back which seemed at first sight to have
been caused by a fox or a dog. However, a fox is unlikely to be the
culprit. Previously, the bird had been observed crashing in an
attempt to land on a cliff-face, so its injuries may have result
from a collision and a subsequent fall. The bird had no prospect of
survival and, on veterinary advice, it was put down.
happen to see a Golden Eagle in the mountains of Donegal or
elsewhere in Ireland, please report your sighting to:
Tel.: 074 37070
For more information about the Golden Eagle Re-Introduction
Project, visit www.goldeneagle.ie