Britain’s largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle, has been spotted in English skies for the first time in 240 years.
The birds were once a common sight across England until illegal killing wiped them out.
They were last recorded in England in 1780 at Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight, before they were made extinct in the UK when the final bird was shot on the Scottish Shetland Islands.
According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) European populations of the eagle also suffered from heavy persecution, which led to significant declines and extinction in several countries.
However, the joint work of Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation have helped the birds, which has a wing span of up to 2.5 metres, start to make a comeback.
Last summer, six young white-tailed eagles were released on the Isle of Wight as part of a five-year project to restore the species to southern England.
Roy Dennis, founder of The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said: “I have spent much of my life working on the reintroduction of these amazing birds and so watching them take to the skies of the Isle of Wight has been a truly special moment.
“Establishing a population of white-tailed eagles in the south of England will link and support emerging populations of these birds in the Netherlands, France and Ireland, with the aim of restoring the species to the southern half of Europe.”
Satellite data has given the team fascinating insights into the behaviour of the birds, who have started to drift further afield now that spring has arrived.
The data has also showed that they choose days with the best conditions to make their big moves, preferring a tailwind and clear skies.
The birds, also known as “sit-and-wait” foragers, prefer to wait and watch their prey rather than fly great distances for food, which saves valuable energy.
Bruce Rothnie, from Forestry England, added: “We are immensely proud that the woodlands we manage on the Isle of Wight and surrounding South Coast are now home to these incredibly rare birds as they return to England’s coastline.”
If you think you have spotted a white-tailed eagle, you can report it here.
On this day…
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