Hopes are rising that white-tailed sea eagles are about to produce chicks for the first time in Ireland in more than 100 years.
The Golden Eagle Trust has confirmed a pair is breeding near Mountshannon, Co Clare. Nest building began in recent weeks, with the birds spending much time in and around the nest site before laying at least one egg.
The pair, a four-year-old male and three-year-old female, settled in Lough Derg in early 2011 and were among 100 sea eagles released in Killarney National Park in a reintroduction project started in 2007.
Project manager Dr Allan Mee yesterday described the breakthrough as a “truly momentous event” for nature in Ireland.
“It seems a long time since we collected these birds as chicks from nests in the wild in Norway and to see them now nesting in the wild themselves in Ireland is the day we have all been waiting for,” he said.
“We had hopes that this pair might try and build a nest but, because the birds are relatively young, we really didn’t expect them to breed.
“The odds are stacked against young, first-time breeders because they have no experience of nest building, mating and caring for eggs and young. They have to get everything right to succeed, but so far so good,” he added.
Dr Mee said the next few weeks would be a very sensitive period for the birds and, if breeding is successful, a chick could be hatched in mid-May.
He also appealed to people stay away from the nest area, saying disturbance could result in the birds leaving the eggs unguarded for a period during which predators could take the eggs, or the birds could desert the site.
However, people will be able to watch the nesting eagles from nearby Mountshannon pier, where a telescope, or binoculars, will be made available for viewing by the Golden Eagle Trust.
Arts and Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan, welcoming the development, said the eagles were a wonderful asset to tourism around Killarney and Kerry.
“Their spread will benefit business as well as giving joy to anglers and naturalists around the Shannon,” he said.
Over the past four years, eagles have flown from Killarney to many parts of the country and beyond. Several have been sighted in the North and at least six have travelled to Scotland.
A male that spent eight months away from Kerry, in 2009, flew over 2,000km to the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland, before returning to Kerry. In early 2011, this male was found paired with a female in south Kerry.
Immature sea eagles may disperse over a wide area but, once birds begin to mature and pair up at four to five years of age, they establish territories along the coast and inland lakes where they remain resident. To date, 21 of the Killarney birds have been recovered dead, including nine with confirmed poisoning.
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