"Almost 50 years ago, conservationists reintroduced white-tailed eagles to Scotland. It’s gone well. Some say too well."
"She comes winging in from behind us, looming into our field of vision, seeming almost too massive to be airborne. She is a white-tailed eagle, one of a species of sea eagles. Haliaeetus albicilla is a close cousin of the North American bald eagle, with its same dour expression, outsized muppety beak, and slightly ramshackle habit of motion, landing like a winter coat falling off a hook. The wingspan of a big female can reach 2.5 meters. These are mythically big animals. Their size makes them bold. They lack the furtive elegance of so many other wild animals. They look casual, like they own the place.
The place owned by this particular eagle is the Isle of Mull, a rugged island off the west coast of Scotland. I am sitting in a truck, parked near a small copse of spruce. Next to me, with a scope mounted on his windowsill, is Dave Sexton from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who has studied and protected eagles on and off on Mull since the 1980s. As we watch the eagle approach her nest, we see that she carries a twig in her yellow dinosaur talons. Sexton explains that this pair lost their chick a few weeks ago when a spell of cold and wet weather happened to hit the island just after hatching. With their nestling dead, the couple seem lost. Although white-tailed eagles almost never lay a second clutch, the pair add sticks to their already built nest, perhaps compelled to do so by the stimulus of it being empty.
This pair of eagles have raised several chicks in years past. A local sheep farmer named Jamie Maclean had complained that they were raising their chicks on a steady diet of his newborn lambs, which are born in spring, just as chicks hatch. And so, with Sexton’s help, the Scottish government agreed to pay for some “diversionary feeding.” Maclean would buy fish from a local fishmonger—at retail prices—with government money, and then put them out for the eagles to eat. The idea was that with the free fish rolling in, they’d leave the lambs alone."