How Mull’s eagles will make your heart soar!

Mull – the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides – is home to some fantastic birds of prey. Hen Harriers, short eared owls, kestrels, merlins and peregrines can all be seen flying high above the hills, moors and lochs of this beautiful Scottish island. But it’s the eagles that are the main draw. White-tailed eagles and golden eagles share this epic Highland habitat, and you’ve a good chance of spotting both of these feathered giants on a visit to Mull.

Welcome to Eagle Island
Mull has the highest density of nesting golden eagles in Europe, and this spectacular predator, the UK’s second largest bird of prey, can often be seen soaring over the island’s remote glens, moorland and mountains. The ‘goldie’ flies with its long, broad wings held in a shallow ‘V’ shape. Look out for the deeply ‘fingered’ wing tips.

But if the golden eagle is an impressive sight, it’s the white-tailed eagle, also called sea eagle, that is truly the king of the Scottish skies and, arguably, the highlight of a trip to Mull. Weighing up to 15lb and with an eight-foot wing span, it’s the UK’s largest bird of prey and the fourth largest eagle in the world. The Gaelic name Iolair Sùil na Grèine means ‘the eagle with the sunlit eye’.

We’re lucky the white-tailed eagle is still here. It was trapped, poisoned and shot to extinction in Britain, with the last bird killed in 1918. However, over the course of a decade from 1975, 82 young sea eagles were brought from Norway and released on the island of Rum. They flew over to Mull, and now more than 18 breeding pairs nest on the island.

The white-tailed eagle’s distinctive features make it easy to spot and identify. Look out for the huge wingspan, large, pale, buff-coloured head, enormous bill and short, wedge-shaped, white tail. It’s also quite vocal; listen out for the call which is a mixture of a bark and a yelp. The white-tailed eagle prefers sheltered lochs or sea lochs rather than exposed coastal sites. It also prefers to nest in trees rather than on cliffs. Their nests are enormous!

Mull Eagle Watch started in 2000 at Loch Frisa, allowing people to get great views of the birds without disturbing them. Since then the eagles have become TV stars and famous among bird lovers! This year, Mull Eagle Watch is offering guided visits from two sites on the island. The first site is at Tiroran Community Woodland, where ‘Fingal’ and ‘Iona’, the sea eagles who starred in the BBC TV series ‘The Hebrides’, have nested. The second site is at West Ardhu where ‘Hope’ and ‘Star’ have made their nest in the North West Mull Community Woodland.

The ranger-led trip lasts around two hours, and is a superb way to learn more about Mull’s eagles from a resident expert. The hides are also well placed to watch for other birds of prey and red deer. From May to July you can expect to see the chicks in the nest. From August onwards the chicks will have fledged, but will be in the area. You’ll need to book ahead through the VisitScotland office in Craignure, by calling 01680 812556. The cost is £8 for adults, £4 for children and £20 for a family ticket. Mull Eagle Watch is a partnership between Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, Mull and Iona Community Trust and Police Scotland and the profits are ploughed back into local community projects. Mull Eagle Watch is only a handful of wildlife experiences in Scotland with a VisitScotland 5* Award and a Gold Green Tourism Award.

Another great way to experience Mull’s magnificent white-tailed eagles is by boat. Mull Charters have designed a trip that will get you up close and personal with the birds. From the land, you can watch the sea eagles sitting in their nests or soaring in the sky, but from a boat you can see them fish. The giant birds swoop down to pluck fish from the surface of the sea from as near as 25ft from the boat. What an incredible sight!

Of course you don’t need to go on an organised trip to see Mull’s magnificent eagles. When you’re out and about exploring the island by foot or by bike, keep your eyes peeled and you’ll be in with a good chance of spotting these majestic raptors. And one thing’s for sure, it’s a sight that’s guaranteed to make your heart soar along with the eagles.

Find out more about things to see and do on Mull, Iona, Coll & Tiree.

Header photo by Martin Keivers of Mull Charters.