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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Shutterstock File photo of white-tailed eagle chicks.

Taoiseach releases eagle chicks in biodiversity initiative to restore native bird to Irish skies

This year a total of sixteen young eagles will be released at three sites across Munster.

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has released four white-tailed sea eagle chicks in Kerry today as part of a long-term initiative to re-establish a population of the once-extinct native bird.

The eagle chicks arrived in Kerry airport on 1 July this year and the release in Tarbert, Co Kerry, today is part of the 2022 phase of this biodiversity initiative.

This year a total of sixteen young eagles will be released at three sites across Munster, including Killarney National Park, Lough Derg and the lower Shannon estuary, with the first of these being released today by the Taoiseach.

“I have followed this project for a number of years now and watching the eagles take to the skies for the first time is something that will last long in the memory,” Martin said.

“It is wonderful to see the development since the first introduction of chicks a number of years ago. These white-tailed eagles are magnificent birds which will play a key role in a functioning ecosystem, after having been driven to extinction in the 19th Century as a result of human actions.”

As in previous years, the young eagles released today were collected under licence in Norway by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and co-workers. All the birds have been fitted with satellite tags in Ireland to enable their progress to be followed and their integration into the existing Irish breeding population monitored.

The chicks, as they mature, will join the small Irish breeding population that has become established since the reintroduction programme began in 2007. Thirty one young eagles from Norway have been released over the last two years and by the releases this year will bring the total to 47.

Already, the satellite data shows that two birds released in 2020 have paired up with older birds and have established territories in Ireland.

Previously, in the first-phase reintroduction programme (2007-2011), 100 young White-tailed Eagles were released in Killarney National Park. Birds from these releases dispersed throughout Ireland with the first breeding occurring in 2012 on Lough Derg, Co Clare.

Since then a small breeding population of eight to ten pairs has established and has successfully fledged over 40 chicks, including seven chicks that fledged from the wild in 2022.

The first Irish-bred female to breed in over 100 years has been the most productive eagle in Ireland in modern times with seven fledgling chicks in the past three years and this year saw the first Irish-bred male successfully breed. He and his mate fledged a chick at a nest in Glengarriff, Co Cork.

Despite these breeding successes, a scientific review of the reintroduction project indicated the small population is still vulnerable to mortality factors such as illegal poisoning. The breeding population was also negatively impacted by Avian Influenza in 2018 and 2021, Storm Hannah in 2019 and adverse weather in other years during the nesting period.

Today’s release will be followed by a further release next Tuesday when the Norwegian Ambassador along with a group of visiting Norwegians, who collected the eagles in Norway and made this re-introduction programme possible, will visit Killarney National Park.

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