OF the 23 white-tailed eagle chicks that have recently arrived in Ireland, none are destined for West Cork, but there are hopes that some of them will make their way here at some stage.
The original pair in Glengarriff were, after all, released in Killarney in 2009 and 2010, so it is entirely possibly that one or more of the new batch could relocate to West Cork where there are excellent eagle habitats.
Glengarriff currently has three white-tailed eagles in residence. There’s Mama P, her female chick Sunniva, and Mama P’s new partner, Brendan.
It’s appropriate that West Cork should have a contingent given that county Cork’s last breeding pair was recorded at Crow Head in 1854 – a statistic recorded by Penelope Durrell in her book Discover Dursey.
The new batch are part of a long-term wildlife reintroduction project that is being led by the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
The 2021 phase of this landmark collaboration to restore a native and once-extinct bird to Irish skies will see the release of young eagles at four sites across Munster, including Killarney National Park, along the River Shannon, the lower Shannon estuary, and Waterford.
The chicks were collected under licence in June from nests throughout the Trondheim area of West-Central Norway by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and flown to Kerry Airport.
They will be held for between six and eight weeks at purpose-built flight cages at four sites in Munster, where they will be cared for and monitored by NPWS, before being released into the wild in August.
As they mature, the chicks will join and strengthen the small Irish breeding population that has become established since the reintroduction programme began in 2007.
‘This is an incredibly exciting and technically complex project whose success depends on the collaboration of many groups, including our NPWS teams, local farmers, conservationists and communities, the Norwegian Authorities and many other partners in Norway,’ the Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, told The Southern Star.
‘White-tailed eagles are magnificent birds and, as top predators, they also play a key role in the functioning of ecosystems,’ he added.
Having been driven to extinction in the 19th Century as a result of human actions, the reintroduction project is delivering real impact for the species, according to West Cork conservation ranger, Clare Heardman.
In 2020 and 2021 10 white-tailed Eagle pairs held territory in Ireland across four counties, and at least nine pairs laid eggs.
These birds dispersed widely throughout Ireland and there is now a small breeding population of between eight and 10 pairs that have successfully fledged over 30 chicks, with an additional five chicks likely to fledge into the wild in Munster in the next few weeks.
Some Irish-bred eagles are now reaching maturity and starting to breed in the wild themselves.
However, a scientific review of the reintroduction project indicated the small population is still vulnerable to mortality factors such as illegal poisoning.
The white-tailed Eagles at sites like Glengarriff and Killarney has proven hugely popular with local residents while the potential for positive economic benefits from ecotourism.
In 2020, when physical tourism was non-existent due to the C-19 restrictions, live streaming of a white-tailed Eagle nest in Glengarriff proved to be a huge virtual nature attraction – it even made the BBC’s top 20 virtual nature attractions in the world.