Pigeons, sparrows, the odd warbler. You’d be remiss for thinking the UK was only home to unimposing birds. There are buzzards, sure. They can be quite majestic. There are owls too— which are fascinating and striking looking but hidden by the night mostly.
What we lack are grand birds of prey, with immense wingspans, soaring across the face of the sun, screeching in ravines. We lack eagles. The most grandiose of all birds of prey.
Or do we? When we think of eagles, we think of the Rocky Mountains in America or Alaska or Canada or Russia. We don’t think of the UK. We should, because Scotland has eagles. Oh yes. Two types in fact, golden eagles and white-tailed eagles.
What Are Golden Eagles?
If eagles are the most loved and iconic birds of prey, then golden eagles are the favourites amongst favourites.
Golden eagles are a popular choice for falconry and known the world over—a widely distributed eagle species. Also, due to their exceptional hunting skills, they are seen by some cultures as having spiritual significance and often appear in folklore.
Golden eagles are actually dark brown and belong to the family accipitridae. Although very large, they’re not the biggest eagles. They place fifth on the eagle wingspan charts—with a span of 2.34 metres. Roughly between 6ft and 7ft. For a blue tit this is gargantuan, but for an eagle it’s modest apparently.
They weight the same, sometimes more than a large adult cat— anywhere between three and seven kilos depending on gender (females are heavier). Having huge wings is necessary for eagles, because unlike cats they must fly. Weight is clearly where the similarities stop.
When airborne, golden eagles can reach blistering speeds approaching 200mph. They can also swivel their heads 270 degrees and have astute eyesight. The poor little rabbit nibbling grass below doesn’t stand a chance.
Ironically, we might associate the classic eagle “screech” sound with golden eagles, however they are birds of few words. When we’re watching a western and a winged silhouette calls sharp and high over a rough mountain camp—it’s not a golden eagle. If they bother to cry, it’s weak and described as “puppy-like”.
How long do they live? Golden eagles in the wild can reach 30 years of age, or more.
What Are White-Tailed Eagles?
Or sea eagles. Until 30 or so years ago they were extinct in the UK, following a century of persecution and habitat loss. In the 1980s some chicks were brought over from Norway and sea eagles were reintroduced to Scotland. Now there are at least 100 breeding pairs.
Sea eagles are our largest birds of prey, with maximum wingspans touching 8ft. Whilst golden eagles may prefer to swoop down on furry things, sea eagles prefer—no prizes for guessing—fish. You can spot them on tree branches with clear visibility over a lake or water source, watching the surface intently. They also nest on cliff faces, rather than at the top of tall trees.
The white-tailed eagle forms a species pair with the bald eagle—America’s national bird. This means they are the same bird but for a few nuances of biology. They look almost identical and fill identical niches within the UK and US eco systems.
All eagles, including golden and white-tailed have a poignant cultural significance in America. In Native American myth, eagles are messengers between the gods and humans.
Where to See Eagles in Scotland?
Seeing an eagle is a breath-taking experience, whether golden or white tailed. One of the best places to see golden eagles is in the vast, untamed beauty of the Cairngorm Mountains. The Cairngorms National park is considered as one of the most important golden eagle conservation areas in Europe. The Cairngorms are the most challenging mountains in the UK, with a sub-arctic climate—like that of northern Canada or Norway.
To be in with a chance of spotting a sea eagles you must travel to the western rim of the Scottish Highlands. Many of the inner and outer Hebridean island have populations of sea eagles. It’s even possible to spot one from a main road on the Isle of Skye.
Of course, the remoter you are, the better your chances. The Adrnamurchan Peninsula is a perfect place to spot white-tailed eagles.
As modern civilisation muscles forward into the 21st Century, it’s sad to think that in the UK it’s become much harder to find wilderness. However, it’s still there if you know where to look. Instagram isn’t necessarily the place. Ardnamurchan and Moidart are cherished by those who live there and are still “off the beaten track” in the most life affirming way. True unspoilt Scotland at it’s finest, with ancient forests, pristine sea lochs, and craggy archipelago coast. Prime sea eagle territory.
Ardnamurchan is known for being a bird watcher’s paradise, with golden eagles and sea eagles.
Wildlife Stay's at Kilcamb
At Kilcamb Lodge on the shores of Loch Sunart we’ve seen a few eagles in our time and they never fail to impress. Perhaps you could see one too? Cosy up at our highlands lodge for a winter break, with exquisite fine dining and quality whisky—make a thing of it.