NINA news

27 Norwegian white-tailed sea eagles successfully released in Ireland and Spain

Published on: 15. September 2021
Author: Anne Olga Syverhuset

The release of Norwegian white-tailed sea eagle fledglings this summer marks a milestone in the restoration of the species in Europe.

27 Norwegian white-tailed sea eagles successfully released in Ireland and Spain
Ireland's first white-tailed sea eagle triplets - born to Norwegian parents! Triplets are rare among white-tailed sea eagles, even in Norway. Photo: Damien Clarke.

21 Norwegian white-tailed eagle sea fledglings were released in Ireland this summer, and in October, 7 were released in Spain.

“These events are milestones in the reestablishment of the species, strengthening the restored population in Ireland and establishing a new core population of the species on the Atlantic coast of Spain – the first in the 150 years since the extinction of the Spanish population”, says Duncan Halley, researcher in the Norwegian institute of nature research (NINA).

The distribution of the white-tailed sea eagle used to be very extensive, from the coast of North Africa in the south to the North Cape in the north, and Greenland in the west to Kamchatka in the east. However, the species disappeared from many areas because of direct persecution and disturbance of the nests, and the numbers have declined drastically in the area where the birds survived.

“Reintroductions are helping restore the species and it’s ecological function to parts of its original  distribution decades, or even centuries, faster than would happen through natural spread from the locations it survived. In Norway, for example, where the birds have spread naturally, it has only recently started to breed in the Oslofjord area and on the southern coast, even though it has been protected for over 50 years, Halley explains.

Adjusting to their new life over the summer

The white-tailed sea eagle fledglings were flown from Norway to Ireland and Spain early this summer, and spent the summer in enclosures, while growing and developing their feathers and muscles enough to be able to fly. Many were fitted with satellite tags, in order for the researchers to be able to follow their movements. Both in Ireland and Spain, the fledglings have access to food while gradually learning how to find food for themselves, mimicking how the adult eagles continue to dump food in or in the vicinity of the nests in the period after the young birds fledge.

Release of 21 fledglings in Ireland in August

In the middle of August came the moment everyone had been waiting for in Ireland. 21 young white-tailed sea eagles were released in the Irish nature, by the Shannon Estuary, close to Lough Derg, in Waterford and in Killarney National Park. 

The foundation for a new population in Asturias, Spain

The Spanish immigrants were held in captivity a little longer, in a large enclosure where they could fully develop their flight ability and social skills.

In October the enclosure was opened, and seven fledglings could start their new life in Spain. Two additional fledglings need to wait a little longer before they are released.

The Norwegian white-tailed sea eagles are the foundation for a new population in Asturias on the Atlantic coast in the northern part of Spain, and the release marks the start of the reintroduction. The plan is to release another 20 fledglings in 2022, from Sunnmøre and Trøndelag; and more in the years to come following an evaluation of the first two years.

You can follow the project on the Facebook page Proyecto Pigaro.

Leer más en Español en «Se inica la reintroducción del pigaro europeo en España con la llegada hoy a Asturias de nueve ejemplares jóvenes»

Recapturing the entire Atlantic coast

Norwegian white-tailed eagles have earlier contributed to the reintroduction of white tailed eagles in Scotland. This turned out to be a success, and today 150 pairs are breeding! Descendants of Norwegian birds are now used in England’s first reintroduction.
“In the long run, Norwegian white tailed sea eagles may recapture the entire Atlantic coast down to Gibraltar!”, says Halley.


Contact: Duncan Halley


Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

NINA is an independent foundation for nature research and research on the interaction between human society, natural resources and biodiversity.
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