Arran is blessed with a number of pairs of Golden Eagle and during the recent Arran Wildlife Festival many people enjoyed good views from the distillery in Lochranza. The Golden Eagle population on Arran is significant in terms of the number of young fledged each year. It is the most important population in southern Scotland. It is from this base that birds are liable to spread to neighbouring parts of the Scottish mainland and indeed northern England. The monitoring of Golden Eagle on Arran has been part of the outstanding long-term work of John Rhead, local member of the Scottish Raptor Group.
The Golden Eagles like open, treeless areas. Their territories range in size from 5 - 150 square kilometres. In some areas of Scotland, the breeding density is among the highest in the world and territories are very small. Each pair usually has more than one eyrie in their territory.
Golden Eagles in Scotland do not migrate and will remain in their breeding territories throughout the year. Young and non-breeding birds avoid occupied territories in their search for suitable breeding areas.
Golden Eagles take several years to reach maturity and normally do not start breeding until they are 4 - 5 years old. In late February into March, there is work on often more than one eyrie. The female, who is larger than the male, decides which eyrie should be used. The female starts to lay 1 - 3 eggs in early to late March and incubates them for about six weeks, hatching early May. Incubation starts as soon as the first egg is laid. First laid is first hatched and has a head start.
When they are hatched, the chicks are covered in white down. In four to five weeks dark feathers start to sprout and by seven weeks they are more dark than white. The young spend about ten weeks in the nest before making their first flight in mid July.
The male bird brings the food and the female tears it up and gives the food to the young. The female is in constant attention for about ten days. By about seven weeks old, young can rip up food for themselves.
More often than not, only one chick will survive to leave the nest. It is still not fully understood whether this is because of a lack of food or competition between the young birds.
Young birds will remain in their parents’ territory into the early winter months, begging for food for as long as the adult will continue to feed them. In birds of prey, up to 60 - 70% of all young that leave the nests will not survive their first winter. This figure is probably significantly lower for large raptors such as Golden Eagles, but a young eagle faces a life or death struggle through its first winter. After surviving that first year, a young eagle may well then live for more than 20 years.
Golden Eagles will take any prey that is available, including hares, gulls, grouse, feral cats, short-eared owl, and carrion including deer and sheep.
Golden Eagles have no natural predators. The main threat is from human activity. Please remember that under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 it is an offence to interfere with any nesting wild bird and approaching a nest of a Golden Eagle is a very serious offence.
Adult Golden Eagles are famous for the light golden brown colouring on their head, neck and shoulders. Their bodies are mostly a medium brown colour with lighter mottling. Golden Eagles have a smaller head and longer tail than White-tailed Eagles, and these are distinctive flight characteristics. The plumage of young Golden Eagles is a dark chocolate brown with very conspicuous white markings on the wings and upper parts of the tail. In juvenile plumage there can be confusion with White-tailed Eagles.
Look out for these majestic birds flying over the mountains of Arran in the summer months