Guide to sea eagles: how to identify and where to see in the UK

Sea eagles, also known as the white-tailed eagle, is the UK's largest bird of prey. Our guide on the sea eagle includes how to identify, where to see and interesting facts about the species

White Tailed Sea Eagle

Our guide on the sea eagle includes how to identify, where to see and interesting facts about the species

The reintroduction of sea eagles in the UK

Once native and widespread in the British Isles, these massive top predators were hunted to extinction in Britain and Ireland by the early 20th century. But as time and industrialisation marched on, the birds also began to decline in their previous European strongholds.
“By the 1960s environmental pollutants had caused severe population declines for sea eagles in much of Europe,” says James Reynolds from RSPB Scotland. “So, in 1975, a reintroduction programme began on the Isle of Rum. Young eagles were brought from nests in Norway, as that country had the only population robust enough to act as a donor.”

Advertisement

Top facts about sea eagles

1

The sea eagle is the UK’s largest bird of prey. Adults are usually about 90cm (3ft) tall, with a wingspan that can stretch to 2.5m (8ft). The bird takes its name from its love of lochs and other coastal locations.

2

In 1700, there were more than 200 pairs of sea eagles spread across the UK as far south as the Isle of Wight, but by 1916 they were extinct.

Sea eagles mate for life. They are quite long-lived birds, surviving until about 20 years of age, and mate for life, although if one partner dies, the other will readily find a new one. Sea eagles have a spectacular courtship display, locking claws in mid-air and cartwheeling downwards, sometimes stopping only a few feet above the ground or water.

Sea eagle
Portrait of white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), Scotland (Getty)

Golden eagle

The golden eagle (left) is the UK’s second-largest bird of prey. It often soars with its long, broad wings held in a shallow ‘V’ shape. The white-tailed eagle’s wingspan is half-a-metre longer than a golden eagle’s and its silhouette is more rectangular. Adult white-tailed eagles have pale heads and white tails, younger birds are darker.

Golden eagle

Where to see sea eagles in the UK

The white-tailed eagle is once again dominating the coasts of western Scotland, 40 years after its reintroduction, here are a couple of spots you may spot one:

•    Kyle Rhea Narrows 
On this ferry crossing from Glenelg to Kylerhea on Skye, spot white-tailed eagles, otters and seals.

•    Sound of Jura
See the majestic birds on the boat trips from Tayvallich, Crinan and Loch Sween to the Gulf of Corryvreckan.

•     Tentsmuir Point 
The Tay Estuary is a good place to look for Scotland’s east coast eagles.

•    The Small Isles
Top spots include the Isles of Rum and Canna.

•    Loch Sunart 
Visit the Garbh Eilean viewing hide in the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Advertisement

•   Isle of Mull
With the highest density of white-tailed eagles in the land, this an ideal place to watch the birds.