Blog, News

Monthly Column Feb 2024 Bury Free Press

The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch runs every year at the end of January. Observe the wild birds in your garden for an hour, noting the different species that appear and then send the findings to the RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). This survey assists in building a picture of the health of the British bird population. However good most surveys were this year, I bet they weren’t as good as the ones coming from around here this year. Imagine entering a White-tailed eagle in your survey results! The birders were out in force with their long lenses and their scopes as word spread that this unusual visitor had been sighted, again, as it’s not the first time they have ventured into East Anglia. One was spotted a few years ago on Mickle Mere at Ixworth, so it isn’t unheard of. Ruffling more feathers, a pair was spotted again near Bury St Edmunds this week. The exact location is usually kept a secret in case of trouble, but some will have been lucky enough to see them.

White-tailed eagles are Britain’s largest birds of prey with a wingspan of up to 2.5m and were once widespread across England. Human persecution led to their extinction around 1780. Scotland still supported these magnificent birds but the last one was shot on Shetland in 1918. Then a reintroduction programme was started by the Roy Dennis Foundation in 2019 with birds from Europe released in Southern England. The pair seen near Bury this week are descendants of European
reintroduced birds and we know this as they have identification rings on their legs. So it’s known that both of them are young birds (juveniles), one is a Dutch bird which was injured in a turbine and blown off course and the other is from the reintroduction programme in Sussex. They will travel vast distances cross-country in search of food, usually fish, especially in their early years, though they are mainly found around rocky coastlines. Suffolk Wildlife Trust suggests that the sight of white-tailed eagles further inland in Suffolk demonstrates how they are adapting in the face of habitat loss and climate change.

Dwarfed by white-tailed eagles (see picture for comparison), buzzards, in contrast are a familiar sight over our meadows now, but it wasn’t always so. Persecution in the 19 th Century resulted in them being confined to the west of England and the rise of the use organochlorine pesticides reduced the birds’ ability to reproduce. Myxomatosis spread to the UK, killing most of the rabbit population which is a staple of the buzzard’s diet. But when the chemical was banned in the late 1960s, coupled with the fact that game keepers realised they didn’t actually pose a threat to the game birds they protected, buzzards started coming back and eventually arrived in Suffolk in the 1990s. I do remember hearing my first buzzard in the sky over Wyken Vineyard; such a plaintive cry, almost like the mewing of a kitten, it’s hard to believe it comes from a medium sized bird of prey.

It is a similar story with the majestic red kite, persecuted until it was nearly extinct, hanging on in Scotland and West England but now returning to our skies with their unmistakable reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail.

Jillian Macready
BWMG Trustee

photos taken locally, and may be reproduced with credit:
white tailed eagle and buzzard size comparison – by Trevor Goodfellow
white tailed eagle by Trevor Goodfellow
red kite by Christopher Cross