Golden eagle chicks are to be released in Co Donegal this summer in a bid to breed the wild birds in Ireland for the first time in nearly 100 years, a wildlife group said today.
Conservationists plan to release between six and eight young birds from western Scotland in the Glenveagh National Park in August.
The predator has been extinct in Ireland since about 1912 due to hunting, persecution and habitat change, and it is hoped the birds will begin to breed in four or five years time.
Lorcan O’Toole, chairman of the Irish Raptor Study Group, said this morning: "We are basing our project on similar successful projects in Scotland.
"When we bring the birds into Glenveagh we will place them in secluded cages and they will be fed through a sleeve so there will be no human contact.
"We are trying to avoid human imprinting - we want to keep these wild birds as wild as possible.
"We will release them after five to six weeks once they are ready to fly, and thereafter we will feed them during the first winter."
He said eagle experts from Scotland had examined the location for the project, chosen from several around the state, and deemed it an "excellent" site.
Mr O’Toole added: "When we first considered it back in 1995 we looked at all the sites in Ireland where golden eagles formerly bred.
"We considered a number of criteria - the prey species that would be available to them, indicator species such as raven and buzzard, and the attitude of local people to wildlife.
"We considered that Glenveagh National Park had the best aggregate score of a number of sites from Kerry all the way through Galway and Mayo up to Donegal."
A total of up to 15 birds will be released over the next five years, to compensate for those that die, after Scottish National Heritage issued a licence to allow the chicks to be brought from Scotland.
Mr O’Toole said: "We are very confident that down the road they will breed. They are a long-lived bird and it takes four to five years before they breed."
The project has been planned for more than a decade, and is co-ordinated by the Irish Raptor Study Group and the Curlew Trust.