White Tailed Sea Eagle – (Haliaeetus albicilla)
The white tailed sea eagle was almost made extinct in Iceland, with only 20 mating pairs being recorded in the 1960s. This was due to hunting, with a bounty on their feathery heads until 1905, which dropped their numbers to fewer than 100 eagles. More recently they often died from scavenging poisoned meat, as it was common to poison foxes at this time. Thankfully Iceland outlawed poisoning in 1964 and that, combined with the work of The Bird Life Conservation Organization has taken these incredible birds from the brink of extinction.
Now, despite them being a protected species since 1914 it is still a rare treat to see these incredible birds in the wild, but we have about 250 in Iceland, most of them around the bay separating the Westfjords from Snaefellsnes, the peninsular north of Reykjavik. The eagle is unmistakably huge, the fourth largest species in the world, standing almost a metre tall, and with the largest wingspan recorded of 2.5 metres.
Both carrion feeders and hunters, white tailed eagles, often referred to as Icelandic Sea Eagles, feed on rabbits, mink, various birds, and also fish. To hunt the fish they fly low over the waters surface, slow momentarily above their target, and then snatch their prey with their great yellow talons. They have a reputation for taking lambs, however mostly lambs are eaten as carrion.
In the winter these great birds of prey require between 200g and 300g of food per day, however in the breeding season when they are rearing their young this number doubles.
Only a third of known eyries, the nesting sites of eagles, are being used, and most of those are in the western part of Iceland. However with their numbers increasing young eagles have started reclaiming old eyries.