UK’s Largest Bird of Prey Returns to English Skies for the First Time in Over 200 Years

May 8, 2020 Updated: May 20, 2020

The white-tailed eagle, which is Britain’s largest bird of prey, has made a comeback to the United Kingdom’s skies after it was spotted recently for the first time in 240 years.

The white-tailed eagles, also known as sea eagles, have an outstanding wingspan of 2.5 meters (8 feet). Sadly, they completely disappeared from the English skies since they were last observed in the Isle of Wight back in 1780. During the 20th century, these birds became extinct due to illegal killings. The last known sighting was in 1918 when a final one was shot in Scotland, The Independent reports.

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(Cirstea Emil/Shutterstock)

However, after the birds were missing from the skies for over two centuries, in the summer of 2019, Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation started a project to reintroduce these birds to the English skies. They released six young white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Wight. The five-year project aims to repopulate the southern European skies with this once-extinct species.

For Roy Dennis, who founded his namesake foundation, reintroducing the white-tailed eagle is part of his life’s work and something he is incredibly proud of. “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,” he told The Independent.

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A young white-tailed eagle sits on the ground to be ringed and measured at a remote nest site on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

According to the Mirror, four young birds are currently being tracked via GPS. Researchers found that these birds tended to not move around much during the winter. However, as soon as the weather got better, a couple of these birds came out of their nests and made their way all the way to the regions of Norfolk, Somerset, and Kent. Additionally, two courageous birds, G318 and G393, have flown as far as Yorkshire to roost.

According to research from the Netherlands, the white-tailed eagles also seem to prefer living in more densely populated areas.

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A white-tailed eagle, also known as a sea eagle, comes in to catch a fish thrown overboard from a wildlife-viewing boat on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

As for their diet and hunting preferences, they are birds of prey after all. The white-tailed eagle prefers fish during the warm months and targets waterbirds during the colder months. However, they are also known to eat wild rabbits and hares.

Since its founding in 1995, the Roy Dennis Foundation has been focused on “species recovery projects and the restoration of natural ecosystems.” The organization is now urging the public to report any sightings of these majestic birds, which have black-ridged tails, a yellow hooked beak, golden eyes, yellow legs, and talons.

The Roy Dennis Foundation website even has a special form for people to fill in every time they notice the white-tailed birds. “Your record will help us to build up a picture of how many birds are currently present, and this information will be made available online,” they wrote.

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Bird staff member Helen McSweeney Atkins takes a white-tailed sea eagle to an area on the lawn at the ICBP (International Centre for Birds of Prey) in Newent, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Adding such impressive birds back to the English skies after two and a half centuries is indeed a great achievement. “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,” Bruce Rothnie from Forestry England told The Independent.

According to the Mirror, some farmers are fearful that the eagles might attack their lambs.