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Eagles and other Birds of Prey

eagle perched

© Iain Erskine

The Isle of Mull has become known to many as Eagle Island thanks to the large number of Golden Eagles and also to the excellent documentary of the same name that Gordon Buchanan made for BBC TV on the White-tailed Eagle and other wildlife.

Sea Eagles or ‘white-tailed’ eagles were originally introduced by the Government to the Isle of Rum in 1975 – following unsuccessful attempts on Fair Isle in 1968. By 1980 the Sea Eagles had arrived from the neighbouring island of Rum onto the Isle of Mull. The first successful breeding attempt since extinction in the 1860's took place on the island in 1985 and the population has increased ever since.

Following the arrival of a pair of nesting sea eagles at Forestry Commission Scotland’s Loch Frisa plantation in 1998, organised viewing operated by RSPB Scotland, Mull and Iona Community Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Strathclyde police and Forestry Commission Scotland rangers has taken place from April-July each year. This allows thousands of people to observe the birds at the nest, whilst minimizing disturbance at this working plantation. To book a trip to see the sea eagles call 01688 302038. The sea eagles can also be seen in and around Loch na Keal and Loch Scridain.

eagle chick

© Iain Erskine

Other birds of prey, such as the Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier, Short Eared Owl, Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrow hawk are also seen around the island. The Short Eared Owl is quite unusual as owls go, because he only hunts during the day. It is a bird which will give you really close views if you are looking in the right habitat, which are small conifer plantations bordered by undulating moorland. Our other owls are usually nocturnal, although you can occasionally see newly fledged young owls sitting around during the day. These include the Long Eared Owl, Barn Owl and the reasonably common Tawny Owl. The most common owl to be heard late at night is the Tawny Owl.

hare

© Iain Erskine

One of our more spectacular wildlife sights, must be the food pass of the male and female Hen Harrier. The male is a truly handsome bird, and many would argue that he is the most attractive British Bird of Prey, with his grey white body and black tipped wings. There is a pattern to sightings of Hen Harriers, in that in April and early May, you might see the 'sky dance' of the male, as he swoops up and down, just above the ground, for perhaps a few hundred metres. You might then see him circling around and fanning his tail to the bigger and browner female. From then on, you will see only the male quartering the ground as he hunts for prey to feed the nesting female. It is at this time when you will see the food pass, as the male calls the female from the nest and throws the prey to her in mid flight, she turns over and catches it in mid air and the male continues on, to hunt for more prey. After a few weeks of this behavior, you begin to see the female hunting also, and both take prey back to the growing young. By early July, you may see perhaps three or four young Hen Harriers rising to meet the male or female, and most of them have to be disappointed because either bird will only have one item of prey. However, Hen Harriers have quite a good success rate in rearing young, and all of the young usually survive to fledging.

eagle21a

© Iain Erskine

If you want to see a Peregrine Falcon, you have to be quick as he is the fastest bird in the world. He can be noisy near the nest, which is usually on sea cliffs, and if you hear a shrill and screeching call, watch out for a fast grey falcon! From then on it is a good idea to retreat from the area, as you may well be near their nest, and all birds of prey are easily disturbed and can desert their eggs or small young on such occasions.

The Merlin is a rare bird on Mull, and they can be overlooked as they glide low over the heather in search of prey. They are also small; in fact, the male is only the size of a mistle thrush, and he has a blue back and red speckled chest. The female is dark brown and the size of a Kestrel, which is reasonably common on Mull. All birds of prey have their particular hunting technique, and the Kestrels' style is to hover motionless on the wind, while waiting for an unsuspecting Short Tailed Vole to make a move below.

The Buzzard is the most common bird of prey on the island, usually sighted sitting on top of a telegraph post and looking like a small eagle. In fact, many visitors to the island are convinced that they have seen an Eagle on these occasions. It is such a common claim, some people now refer to the Buzzard as the tourists eagle!

Read more about other birds on Mull (PDF)

© Martin Jones

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