White-tailed eagle monitoring using DNA (Scotland)

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White tailed eagle hunting

The white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) became extinct in the UK in the early 20th century due largely to a prolonged period of persecution. Since 1975, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the RSPB have been running an on-going reintroduction project to restore this iconic species to its former haunts. So far, 139 eagle nestlings from Norway have been released in western Scotland to re-establish a core breeding population. White-tailed eagles are large raptors that can take up to five years to reach maturity so population growth is a slow process; in 2009 there were 46 breeding pairs of sea eagles in Scotland, so although the population is growing, it is still small and vulnerable.

The Scottish sea eagle reintroduction is overseen by the Sea Eagle Project Team (SEPT) which coordinates efforts to monitor and protect the eagles, and includes personnel from SNH, RSPB, Highland Foundation for Wildlife, Natural Research, and expert individuals.

In 2007 SEPT approved a study inititated by Natural Research's Philip Whitfield to collect as many DNA samples as possible from adults and their offspring in western Scotland. Natural Research is coordinating this effort in collaboration with RSPB and Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) fieldworkers. Moulted feathers from adults are being collected from known nest and roost sites, and samples are being collected from nestlings as primary sources of DNA.

These DNA samples are being used to assess the current genetic diversity of the population, in addition to piloting the method’s prospects for monitoring juvenile recruitment into the breeding population and annual turnover and survival of breeding adults. This information is crucial to help inform future management plans for re-introduced sea eagles in the UK. 

Click on the links below to see how DNA is being used for goshawk and golden eagle population monitoring.

Project Collaborators: Sea Eagle Project Team, RSPB, SRSG, the Zoological Genetics Unit of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and SNH.

Project funding is provided by Natural Research and SNH.

We have also initiated a health-screening project for the East Coast Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project: White-tailed Sea Eagle health monitoring (Scotland)

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Click on logo to link to the web sites of our collaborators

For further information on the white-tailed sea eagle DNA project please contact: info@natural-research.org.

Photos: R. Gilbert

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