The golden eagle is one of the largest and most impressive of British birds, especially when seen soaring over a Highland glen or searching for prey over a hillside, with deep leisurely wingbeats.

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Threats to the Golden Eagle

Over the years the golden eagle has suffered a great deal at the hands of humans. In the nineteenth century, many eagles were killed by farmers and gamekeepers in the belief that they killed large numbers of sheep and grouse. A few lambs may be killed, but mostly weak and sick ones whose chances of survival are already slim. The largest number of lambs that eagles take are ones that are already dead; these may be carried back to the nest to be fed to the chicks, and as there is a lot of wool on a lamb, quite a pile of wool may gather around the nest. It may have been this that gave the idea that many lambs were killed.

Golden eagles certainly do kill grouse, but research has shown that they do not eat nearly as many as gamekeepers used to suggest, and they do not have any damaging effects on the 'bags' at grouse shoots. Fortunately, most farmers and gamekeepers now realise that the eagle may be beneficial in controlling animals that are vermin, such as rats and rabbits; it is an important predator, helping to maintain an ecological balance within its habitat. 

Ecological research shows that predators at the top of the food chain have an enormous effect on the biodiversity and ecology of an area - like ripples in water, the presence of our larger predatory animals sustains an incredible amount of life below it's top spot at the food chain.  This phenomenon, in ecological terms, is known as a trophic cascade.

Although the golden eagle is a protected species, it is still threatened by various factors. A few eagles are killed when they eat poisoned sheep carcasses put out to kill foxes. A serious threat is habitat destruction when forestry plantations take over the open areas over which the eagle likes to hunt.

Some pairs of eagles fail to breed or successfully rear their young when they are unintentionally disturbed by too many walkers or climbers passing close to their nests, especially in the Cairngorms area and Central Highlands. It is important, therefore, to control the development of tourism.

The collection of eggs, or eaglets, is still a serious threat too. There are laws, with fines, to stop this, but it is almost impossible to keep a constant watch on all nests in such remote areas.

Read More: Pesticide Pollution

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