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Camera-shy eagles fly the nest

Dr Allan Mee, co-ordinator, White-tailed Eagle Project, with John Conway, Mountshannon Search and Rescue. Photograph by Valerie O’Sullivan
THE big brother camera had to be removed from Bushy Island this past week after a nesting camera installed on Monday, June 10 last caused disturbance to the parents of the Mounsthannon white-tailed sea eaglets.
Dr Allan Mee project manager of the Golden Eagle Trust confirmed the parents flew the nest this week following the installation of a nesting camera on Bushy Island.

 

Dr Allan Mee, co-ordinator, White-tailed Eagle Project, with John Conway, Mountshannon Search and Rescue. Photograph by Valerie O’Sullivan
THE big brother camera had to be removed from Bushy Island this past week after a nesting camera installed on Monday, June 10 last caused disturbance to the parents of the Mounsthannon white-tailed sea eaglets.
Dr Allan Mee project manager of the Golden Eagle Trust confirmed the parents flew the nest this week following the installation of a nesting camera on Bushy Island.

He also explained he has been manually feeding the chicks in the interim to ensure they have enough food to sustain them until the parents return or they take their first flight and begin to fend for themselves.

“We had plans to put in a nest camera. We did that on Monday [June 10] and we had great footage from the nest for a few days but we have now taken the camera back out again because the parents weren’t responding well to do it. The parents weren’t coming back into the nest so we had to take it out. In the meantime, we have had to feed the chicks ourselves just to make sure they are all ok. So at the moment, we’re trying to get things back to normal. The male is there on the island at the moment and both the male and female are nearby,” he said.

The installed camera is roughly 1ft in size and although camouflaged and placed five to six metres away from the nest, it was enough to cause this unexpected disturbance.

“It is not something we anticipated would happen at all because we have been to so many white-tailed eagle nests over the years and when we go to the nests, they largely fly around and as soon as we’re gone, they are back in. So it’s obviously the change in something around the nest, probably to do with the camera that has put them off. We would regularly go to nests to tag birds and we’ve never seen this before but it’s probably because the birds themselves are young,” Dr Mee said.

He is now hoping the adults both return and take up parental duties as they would have done before the camera went in.

According to Dr Mee, although the parents have left the nest they have not left the island and on Monday night, the male was observed roosting close to the nest, which is positive and maybe attributed to him being older than the mother. 

“At this stage, it is normal for the birds to be away for a long period of time. I was in Killarney yesterday and there were no adults there at all because the chicks are pretty big and they largely only visit the nest to feed and they don’t spend more than minutes at the nest anymore,” he continued.

Dr Mee has put fish into the nest every two to three days in the interim and is trying to strike a fine balance between ensuring the chicks are fed and not disturbing the birds.

“We have had to climb to the nest and put the fish in so that the chicks don’t see us because we don’t want them to associate humans with food. We’ve been able to get the food in without them seeing us. It’s absolutely not what we had planned. The bottom line is regardless of what happens is with wild animals the only thing you can predict is the unpredictability of it,” he said.

Despite the upset, Dr Mee is confident the eaglets will be gracing the skies above Mountshannon in the next couple of weeks and fending for themselves.

“In three to four weeks’ time, they should be flying and if the chicks fledge, and there is nothing to suggest they won’t, they’ll be flying and will be able to follow their parents. It will be much more of a normal scenario then. The main goal is to get two chicks to fly in Clare and I think that will happen regardless. They don’t need the parents to fly but it does help once they leave the nest because the parents do provide food for them for a few weeks. So it is important that the parents do stay around to allow that to happen and even if they don’t, we can still help them with food. We did that when we released birds in Killarney, we fed them for a couple of months and that is much easier to do when the birds are able to go to it themselves,” he explained.

The birds continue to be monitored every day with the help of locals and Dr Mee has said the involvement locally has contributed greatly to the success of the reintroduction project.

He said the public should be aware that once the birds are flying, they hope to get a satellite transmitter on one of the chicks and a normal chip transmitter on the other.

“The only real risk to the chicks is probably not getting enough food. They can get into situations in their first flight too. We know in Killarney one or two birds landed in the water. But anyone who sees that happen doesn’t panic. We panicked in Killarney when it happened and it all turned out alright. They are pretty good swimmers. Their first flight can be very erratic and they can get a little bit out of control,” he said.

Dr Mee is still advising people not to land on the island and has cautioned people not to disturb the nest and birds to give them every chance. He added that he believes there is “a really good chance” the parents will come back to the nest.

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