Tetrapod Zoology

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ResearchBlogging.org

The big buzz here in Hampshire (southern England) at the moment is the recent arrival of a White-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. This magnificent raptor – it can have a wingspan of 2.4 m and is one of the biggest eagles in the world – is historically extinct in England, but individuals still appear here on occasion [image of the Hampshire bird shown here by Darren Crain].

A member of the ‘sea eagle’ clade Haliaeetus, the White-tailed eagle appears to be the sister-species of North America’s only sea eagle, the Bald eagle H. leucocephalus (Wink et al. 1996, Lerner & Mindell 2005). Both species are part of a ‘Northern sea eagle’ clade, the members of which mostly possess yellow bills, yellow eyes and yellow feet (the odd one out is Pallas’s fish eagle H. leucoryphus, which has the primitive condition of a dark bill, dark eyes and dark feet). Many people might be surprised to know that the closest relatives of sea eagles seem not to be ‘aquiline’ eagles like the Aquila species, but rather kites (Milvus) and perhaps buzzards (Buteo) and kin (Holdaway 1994, Wink et al. 1996, Lerner & Mindell 2005). Kites and sea eagles both share fusion of two of the phalanges in the second pedal digit, and some workers have even intimated that sea eagles can be regarded as super-sized, piscivorously adapted kites: the ‘end members’ of a trend toward association with aquatic environments and a diet of fish [image below shows a Bald eagle H. leucocephalus on a whale carcass (photo U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, from wikipedia)].

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Anyway… with my friends Vicky Russell and Tara Dempsey, and my son Will, I went in quest of this most worthy of birding ticks (and thanks to Richard Reeves for some help). Did I see it?

Did I hell, but it was worth trying.

Until extremely recently, the White-tailed eagle (also known as the White-tailed sea eagle or Erne) occurred the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland. Persecution meant that it was mostly gone by the late 1700s: the last breeding English pair was present on the Isle of Wight in 1780, though another pair was still breeding on the Isle of Man in 1815. A surprising number of sightings made in the south-west of England between the early 1900s and 1940s mean that some people have mooted the possibility that the species hung on for rather longer than conventionally thought (Downes 1996), or at the least that it was a fairly regular visitor (interestingly, White-tailed eagles shot in Devon during the 1830s and 1880s were initially misidentified as Golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos. The Hampshire bird was first thought to be a Golden eagle by local landowners). But as a breeding resident, it was extinct [image below shows captive White-tailed eagle. Photo by Małgorzata Szreter, from wikipedia].

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The last birds were killed in Ireland in about 1898. Of the last remaining pair in Scotland, the male was shot in 1908 while the female lingered on alone, “brooding over the empty nest each spring” (p. 21), until her death in 1918.

Since 1975, two reintroduction programmes on Rum and in north-west Scotland have been underway*. They have been successful: the birds (introduced from Norway) had produced 29 fledged young by 1992, indicating that the population might increase slowly so long as stochastic effects don’t affect them adversely (Green et al. 1996). In 2009, 36 chicks were fledged and a fantastic 46 fledged in 2010. There are currently about 200 birds on the west coast of Scotland, leading some to suggest that they are back at pre-decline levels. They are a fantastic boost to local economy: the birds on Mull bring in about £2 million in tourism every year.

* Reintroduction efforts also occurred in 1959 (Sandeman 1965) and 1968, but failed.

Since 2007, a reintroduction programme has been underway in Ireland. Sadly, some of these birds were soon poisoned or shot by farmers, apparently convinced that the birds would kill lambs (they do, but not enough to make an economic impact). Another reintroduction programme – this time on the east coast of Scotland – also began in 2007 (for more on this, read this 2009 interview with RSPB’s Claire Smith). A planned reintroduction for coastal Suffolk failed in 2010 due to government spending cuts (this scheme also faced opposition from local farmers).

A White-tailed eagle arrives in Hampshire

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The bird currently present here in Hampshire was first reported from the region in the middle of December; it then moved west and (as of last weekend, when I and many others were trying to find it) ended up somewhere between Downton and Hordle (or thereabouts) in the New Forest.

Some people think that it was the same bird seen in Essex in October 2010 [the adjacent image - from Three Amigo's Birding - shows the eagle with adjacent Common buzzard Buteo buteo and Jackdaw Corvus monedula]. It’s not the only White-tailed eagle to have appeared in Hampshire in recent years – there was another one here in 2007/8 (and I didn’t get to see that one, either). Leg rings showed that this 2007/8 one had flown in from Finnish Lapland.

The initial occurrence of the 2010/11 bird right over in the south-east of England indicates that it arrived under its own steam from the continent, something that should occur with increasing frequency given the success of the birds in Denmark, the Netherlands and elsewhere on the continent. The possibility that birds from Scotland might wander as far south as southern England is also possible of course, but if this happened you would expect sightings to occur as the bird moved down the Irish Sea and across the English countryside.

Anyway… so, we didn’t find it. Given that birds have a nasty habit of flying around, and thus rapidly moving across kilometres of countryside with ease, it may well have moved away from the exact spot where we, and others, thought best to look for it. As you can see from the photo below [left to right: Will, Vicky, Tara], many of the roads in the region were lined with cars, all belonging to people keen to see the bird. And lots of people have certainly been successful over recent days (quite a few Hampshire birders succeeded in getting good photos of it: see the good photos at Three Amigo’s Birding and BirdGuides). Oh well, at least I had more luck with all those Bohemian waxwings Bombycilla garrulus recently.

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White-tailed eagles are frequently mobbed by corvids and by smaller raptors like Common buzzards. So we were very interested when we found a mutilated – but still very much alive – Carrion crow C. corone – taking refuge in some woodland undergrowth. A horrible wound on its head looked like it could have been the result of an eagle strike – a suggestion that we couldn’t confirm but were prepared to take seriously. My photos of the bird are useless, but let me know if you want to see one of them.

Re-wilding is underway – have you noticed?

As always, the return to these islands of a former native, and an apex predator at that, is a fantastic and wonderful thing, highly beneficial to the area’s ecology. As with the reintroduction of the Great bustard Otis tarda – another ‘lost native’ – the White-tailed eagle’s reappearance in parts of the UK can be considered part of the re-wilding movement, something that many people only associate with such creatures as wolves and megaherbivores. In fact, bustards, raptors, owls and even far lowlier beasts (rodents like beavers and water voles) should be (and are) part of the plan as well, and can be regarded as the first vanguard in a partially ‘reconstructed’ fauna.

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And note that having an apex predator back in the region isn’t just ‘neat’: it has major ramifications for the structure of local ecosystems. That sorry, injured crow we found in the woods is a big clue to the sort of thing that can happen. With apex predators all but gone, so-called mesopredators are super-abundant and have exerted a major influence on the rest of our fauna. When apex predators are back and in action, mesopredator numbers get back in check: this is the start of an ecological community’s restoration. And, yes, this sort of stuff is on my mind at the moment because I’m reading Cristina Eisenberg’s The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity.

I don’t know where that White-tailed eagle I went to see will go next, or how long it will remain within our region. But it reminds us of the successful reintroduction of this species that has occurred elsewhere in the UK, and of the extraordinary work done by the people involved. With great luck, it heralds what we hope is the start of a major recolonisation.

ps – thanks to everyone who identified (or tried to identify) the Maltese animals featured in Bob’s painting. I’ll talk about the animals in the very near future.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on raptors, see…

And for articles on local extinctions and the reintroduction of locally extinct species, see…

Refs – -

Downes, J. 1996. The riddle of the sea eagle. In Downes, J. (ed) CFZ Yearbook 1996. CFZ (Exeter), pp. 26-45.

Green, R. E., Pienkowski, M. W. & Love, J. A. 1996. Long-term viability of the re-introduced population of the White-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla in Scotland. Journal of Applied Ecology 33, 357-36.

Holdaway, R. N. 1994. An exploratory phylogenetic analysis of the genera of the Accipitridae, with notes on the biogeography of the family. In Meyburg, B.-U. & Chancellor, R. D. (eds) Raptor Conservation Today. WWGBP/The Pica Press, pp. 601-649.

Lerner, H. R. L. & Mindell, D. P. 2005. Phylogeny of eagles, Old World vultures, and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37, 327-346.

Sandeman, P. 1965. An attempted reintroduction of the white-tailed eagle to Scotland, Scottish Birds 3, 411.

Whitlock, R. 1953. Rare and Extinct Birds of Britain. Phoenix House, London.

Wink, M., Heidrich, P., & Fentzloff, C. (1996). A mtDNA phylogeny of sea eagles (genus Haliaeetus) based on nucleotide sequences of the cytochrome b-gene Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 24 (7-8), 783-791 DOI: 10.1016/S0305-1978(97)81217-3

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanović
    January 17, 2011

    Kites and sea eagles both share fusion of two of the phalanges in the second pedal digit

    The things I learn on Tet Zoo…

  2. #2 Phillip IV
    January 17, 2011

    Given that birds have a nasty habit of flying around

    Try shooting it, that helps with that problem. j/k

  3. #3 Harebelly
    January 17, 2011

    There was a juv Finnish bird hanging around the Hants/Wilts border (often on MOD land or a large organic farm) for a few months in the winter of 2007/8 – is this differnt from the 2006 Hampshire bird?

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    January 17, 2011

    I was sure that the Finnish bird you mention was 2007/8, but I changed this after reading comments on a message board that gave the date as 2006. I’m talking about the Cholderton bird. So, I think we’re talking about the same bird, and I think it is indeed 2007/8, not 2006.

    [note: this comment and the preceding one no longer makes sense, as I changed the text in the article to account for it].

  5. #5 Sordes
    January 17, 2011

    At 2007 22 griffon vultures and even two monk vultures spent some time at South-West-Germany, not even that far away from where I live. Sadly I didn´t found the time to watch them.
    BTW, when you are writing about lost megafauna ant its reintroduction, you have to keep in mind that there is even another kind of megafauna besides large mammals and birds. Not even that long ago there were salmons (which can grow really big enough to include them into the “lesser megafauna”) in many rivers of Europe, and in some larger rivers like the Danube even several species of sturgeons, including some giants like the atlantic sturgeon or the giant beluga sturgeon, who surpasses even most of the terrestrial members of the europen megafauna. The largest specimens with a little bit more than 1000 kg even surpassed aurochs and wisent in weight.

  6. #6 Bill Bedford
    January 17, 2011

    An attempt was made to reintroduce these eagles in to Shetland in the early 1900s. However the attempt failed because, it was said, the eagles attacked fulmar chicks on the cliffs and were unable to fly well after having their flight feathers damaged by the chicks’ stomach oil.

  7. #7 Darren Naish
    January 17, 2011

    I haven’t heard about an early 1900s reintroduction attempt, but the release of four birds on Fair Isle in 1968 was a failure: one of the birds died after getting oiled by a fulmar and the others all flew away or died, causes unknown.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    January 17, 2011

    The crossword puzzle bird!

  9. #9 darwinsdog
    January 17, 2011

    Interesting that buteos are called “buzzards” in the UK. Here, it’s cathartid vultures of the genera Cathartes & Coragyps that are called “buzzards.” Raptors of the genus Buteo are typically called “buteos” or simply “hawks.”

    I’ve had a birding treat recently, although nothing as spectacular as a white-tailed eagle. There’s been a rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus) hanging out on the experimental farm where I work. I saw it most every day last week. It was perching in Arizona walnuts, along with vast flocks of red-winged blackbirds, and almost every time I saw it on the wing, it was being chased & harassed by ravens. Rough-legged hawks aren’t particularly unusual to see here in winter but I was jazzed to see it.

    White-headed eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) have become increasingly common around here in winter, where the Rio de San Juan, Rio de la Plata, & Rio de las Animas Perdidas converge. Twenty years ago it would have been a big deal to see one but not anymore.

    Interesting that Haliaeetus is closer to kites than to the golden eagle. Where does the harrier (Circus) fit into this new interpretation? I have a big pile of milo or grain sorghum under a tarp in my driveway, and large numbers of mourning doves & Eurasian collared doves have found it. One morning there was a harrier after the doves. That’s the first time I saw one on the property although they’re common up on the farm.

  10. #10 John Harshman
    January 17, 2011

    Though you didn’t see your eagle, I’m still faintly jealous of the birding you must have had while looking for it. I’ve been to Europe 4 times, twice to UK and twice to the continent. Plentiful life birds each time, but there are plenty more I haven’t found yet. So I’m fairly certain you saw some birds I’ve never seen, even absent the eagle.

    (My greatest triumph, to my mind at least, is the flock of bearded tits Panurus biarmicus that I found in the reeds at Neusiedl See. Of course they aren’t really tits; some sort of babbler, apparently. But that makes it even more fun, since the only other babbler I’ve seen is wrentit Chamaea fasciata.)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the twitch.

  11. #11 John Harshman
    January 17, 2011

    Isn’t Circus now nested within Accipiter?

  12. #12 pomposa
    January 17, 2011

    @ Greg Laden

    I wonder if Erne eat Ling?

  13. #13 Lars Dietz
    January 17, 2011

    “Isn’t Circus now nested within Accipiter?”

    Yes, it is. See this dissertation (in German):
    http://www.mnf.uni-greifswald.de/fileadmin/Vogelwarte/Dissertation_von_Annett_Kocum.pdf
    There’s a phylogenetic tree of all examined species on page 97 of the pdf.
    The bearded tit is not a babbler according to molecular phylogenetic results. Instead, it seems to be sister to larks. There is no close relationship to parrotbills (Paradoxornis) and the wrentit, with which it has been placed traditionally. These, together with some other “babblers”, are now placed in the Sylviidae with the Sylvia warblers. See e. g. these papers:
    Johansson, U.S., Fjeldså, J. & Bowie, R. C. K. (2008). Phylogenetic relationships within Passerida (Aves: Passeriformes): a review and a new molecular phylogeny based on three nuclear intron markers. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 48, 858–876.
    Gelang, M., Cibois, A., Pasquet, E., Olsson, U., Alström, P. & Ericson, P.G.P. (2009). Phylogeny of babblers (Aves, Passeriformes): major lineages, family limits and classification. Zool. Scr. 38: 225–236.

  14. #14 Zach Miller
    January 17, 2011

    Eagles seem to attract a lot of mobsters up here. I’ve always wondered why they put up with it. Crows, ravens, magpies, seagulls, and even geese will pester nearby eagles for reasons I’m simply unsure of. I imagine it has to do with territory or protecting eggs or a food source. Maybe corvids and eagles just don’t get along.

    I think it’s funny that in movies and on TV, bald eagles are given a hawk-like call, but in reality they have a rather pitiful voice by comparison–a series of fairly loud chirps.

  15. #15 darwinsdog
    January 17, 2011

    “Isn’t Circus now nested within Accipiter?”

    Yes, it is.

    Thanks Lars. I don’t read German but the tree on p. 97 was revealing. I was under the impression that Circus was close to the kites, so having it placed within Accipiter in this study, was surprising to me. Also surprising is that the sea-eagles are essentially big marine adapted kites. Shows what I know. So when do these birds get reassigned taxonomically, to reflect this new phylogenetic understanding?

  16. #16 John Harshman
    January 17, 2011

    These, together with some other “babblers”, are now placed in the Sylviidae with the Sylvia warblers.

    I think you may have that backwards. Sylviidae has disappeared, Sylvia being just another genus of babbler. Or have Alström and Ericson changed their minds since Alström, P., P. G. P. Ericson, U. Olsson, and P. Sundberg. 2006. Phylogeny and classification of the avian superfamily Sylvioidea. MPE 38:381-397?

    But I had indeed forgotten that Panurus was sister to larks.

  17. #17 John Harshman
    January 17, 2011

    I see that Alström and Ericson did change their minds. They had previously split traditional Timaliidae into several families, and now they have split the new Timaliidae into two families, one of which is a revived Sylviidae. Plus ça change…

  18. #18 RStretton
    January 17, 2011

    Mobbing behaviour is amazing to watch. I was at Fraser Island briefly last year and got the chance to watch a White-Bellied Sea Eagle being mobbed by a trio of Whistling Kites – fabulous to see. I expect it happens a lot where there are multiple species of large raptor, at Fraser on a stretch of beach less than a kilometer long you could see the aforementioned species plus Osprey and Brahminy Kite. There interactions must be interesting to behold.

  19. #19 darwinsdog
    January 17, 2011

    Mobbing behaviour is amazing to watch.

    I’ve seen Western kingbirds chasing a raven, ravens chasing a red-tailed buteo, and a red-tailed buteo chasing a golden eagle, all in one day! A Western screech owl once got inside our sun room. There was a mob of kingbirds, robins, tanagers & grosbeaks right outside the windows, eager to get at the owl. I caught it by throwing a towel over it, photographed it then turned it loose. The mob of passeriforms attacked the poor owl and chased it off into the trees.

  20. #20 David Houston
    January 17, 2011

    @Lars
    Danke. Ich lese nur ein wenig Deutsch…. But the diagrams were very interesting.

    It looks like there’s going to be a LOT of reorganizing of genera now, eh? Accipiter seems to be a couple of things and a couple of other genera have members scattered in several parts of the tree…

  21. #21 John Harshman
    January 17, 2011

    No surprise there. I suspect that close to half of all traditional bird genera that aren’t monotypic are also not monophyletic. The bigger the genus, the more likely.

  22. #22 dhogaza
    January 17, 2011

    Interesting that buteos are called “buzzards” in the UK. Here, it’s cathartid vultures of the genera Cathartes & Coragyps that are called “buzzards.” Raptors of the genus Buteo are typically called “buteos” or simply “hawks.”

    Yeah, well, we also call our most common thrush “robin”. And our blackbirds aren’t related to the English blackbird (Turdus merula – “merle” in french), though the English blackbird *is* related to our fellow Turd[us] the “robin”.

    I think it’s safe to say that the earliest english settlers in North America weren’t great birders … :)

  23. #23 Darren Naish
    January 17, 2011

    Thanks to all for comments – I was planning to tackle the phylogenetic ones (position of harriers, the whole babbler, sylviid etc. thing); thanks indeed Lars for thoughts above.

    As for a day of UK birding (see John Harshman’s comment 10), yeah, it wasn’t a particularly special day, but (without great effort) we still saw quite a few species that would be rather special for a North American birder. Our list for the day is: Common kestrel Falco tinnunculus, Common buzzard Buteo buteo, Carrion crow Corvus corone, Rook Corvus frugilegus, European robin Erithacus rubecula, Blackbird Turdus merula, Eurasian coot Fulica atra, Pied avocet Recurvirostra avocetta (of course, we just call it ‘Avocet’), Tufted duck Aythya fuligula, Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, Goosander Mergus merganser (what you crazy Americans call a Common merganser), Red-breasted merganser M. serrator (one seen in flight: a first for me) and Great cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo. I also saw a moderately dark-mantled, white-headed gull at distance but couldn’t identify it: this was at a reserve called Blashford Lakes, and both Caspian gull Larus cachinnans and Yellow-legged gull L. michahellis were there on the day, so it could have been one of them.

  24. #24 Tommy Tyrberg
    January 17, 2011

    White-tailed eagles have made an incredible comeback in Sweden. Nowadays you are surprised if you don’t see one or more when you visit a lake or river that is good for wildfowl.
    There has been surprisingly few problems with farmers probably because most of them have now noticed that White-tailed Eagles very rarely if ever attack domestic animals. Actually they aren’t very good hunters. They depend a lot on carrion, fish and nestling birds. They rarely seem to succeed in catching ducks for example, except when two birds cooperate.
    An interesting thing about the White-tailed Eagle (and all Haliaaetus eagles)is that they are quite gregarious and tolerant of conspecifics. My own record is 24 eagles together at Lake Tåkern last winter, but even larger groups have been reported. Whether there will ever be two nests in the same tree, as I have seen for the african species, remains to be seen.
    The main worry in Sweden now is Wind Turbines, which are taking an increasing toll of both Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles.
    And as to why they tolerate mobbing, I think they are simply too clumsy to do much about it. Corvids are much more circumspect when mobbing a golden eagle.

  25. #25 dhogaza
    January 17, 2011

    An interesting thing about the White-tailed Eagle (and all Haliaaetus eagles)is that they are quite gregarious and tolerant of conspecifics. My own record is 24 eagles together at Lake Tåkern last winter, but even larger groups have been reported.

    Winter roosts of bald eagles in the US can reach hundreds, and often include rough-legged hawk (buzzard), or red-tailed hawk (more or less our equivalent to common buzzard, at least in commonality!).

    Here’s some info:

    http://www.fws.gov/klamathbasinrefuges/bearvalley/bearvalley.html

    The roost area itself isn’t actually 6.5 sq miles, the refuge encompasses buffer space around the mature trees that the baldies and other species roost in.

  26. #26 CS Shelton
    January 17, 2011

    I hadn’t seen my national bird in the wild until last year, and now I’ve seen several. Yay! Bald eagles are gregarious, as noted, and practically a plague in some areas. Their call is, to my ears, extremely similar to that of juvenile seagulls… That is, pretty silly and pathetic.

    As a bus rider, I can see red-tailed hawks at least every other trip to Seattle. Of course, with our mushroom-colored skies, I might be seeing any of a small number of hawk species known in the area, but red-tailed are most common. On a sunny day, they look nice.

    What we call the crow (the American crow) had a big population increase a few decades ago, and I can’t help but think mobbing is why we rarely see bald eagles in the more urban areas of Western Washington. Every time I’ve seen a bald eagle here, outside of their gregarious places, they’re mobbed by several crows. Mobbing is a risky game, but evolution-wise makes a lot of sense. Crows reserve most of their ire for large raptors, relatively ignoring gulls of a similar size. Why? Gulls aren’t as likely to kill corvids as a hawk or eagle.

    I have no doubt the crows, who have been proven to recognize individual humans (remembering them for years), can recognize the flight profile of a raptor. What I wonder is this: If they see the same shape in a smaller animal, does it still piss them off? Would a crow attack a kestrel in the same way?

  27. #27 R Back
    January 18, 2011

    Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo were mentioned. Here in the Baltic Sea they (the sinensis form) have increased enormously and also spread northwards in the Gulf of Bothnia. Some individual White-tailed Eagles specialize on the Cormorants and seems to be able to wipe out colonies. Cormorant chicks are probably rather easy to pick up and eagles nesting close to cormorant colonies must have at least some of their “feeding worries” solved.

  28. #28 John Atkinson
    January 18, 2011

    We’ve got the local equivalent, a white-breasted sea eagle Haliaeetus leucogastor, that patrols the coast just north of my house here south of Sydney. I often see it slope-soaring the cliffs above when I go for a walk along the rocks — sometimes two of them. I’ve seen it dive a few times but wasn’t able to see if it got its fish. Not quite as big as a wedgie (which don’t come down to the coast here) or a pelican (which do, usually passing through), but nice to watch none the less.

  29. #29 R Back
    January 18, 2011

    …and 20 years ago we had a Steller’s Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus here in the Gulf of Bothnia. It was said to be an escapee from somewhere – which is most probable – but I missed it out and that still hurts a lot.
    …a lot!

  30. #30 David Marjanović
    January 18, 2011

    The bearded tit is not a babbler according to molecular phylogenetic results. Instead, it seems to be sister to larks.

    Wow.

    So when do these birds get reassigned taxonomically, to reflect this new phylogenetic understanding?

    As soon as you publish new names.

    There is no central committee that does such things. Taxonomic freedom.

    I think it’s safe to say that the earliest english settlers in North America weren’t great birders … :)

    See also: “elk”.

    leucogastor

    -er, I hope.

  31. #31 Dartian
    January 18, 2011

    CS:

    If they see the same shape in a smaller animal, does it still piss them off? Would a crow attack a kestrel in the same way?

    I haven’t seen crows mob kestrels, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they did. Crows may mob pretty much any raptor, including such species that pose no real danger to them; for example, I have seen them mob ospreys Pandion haliaetus, honey buzzards Pernis apivorus and hobbies Falco subbuteo. And yes, crows do seem to mob harmless species that closely resemble dangerous raptors with particular intensity. For example, they routinely harrass European sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus; sparrowhawks are too small to prey on crows but they closely resemble the much larger goshawk Accipiter gentilis (which is a serious crow predator).

  32. #32 Dartian
    January 18, 2011

    dhogaza:

    we also call our most common thrush “robin”

    …and in Australia and New Zealand, a ‘robin’ is an altogether different bird.

  33. #33 kad
    January 18, 2011

    A golden eagle killing a wolf is impressive, but that herculean feat is certainly trumped by the bald eagle that killed that whale. ;)

  34. #34 Tommy Tyrberg
    January 18, 2011

    I think we may safely classify it as evidence for Haliaeetus scavenging.

    If you like Haliaeetus eagles I strongly recommend a visit to Nemuro strait betweed Hokkaido and the Kuriles in late winter. A considerable part of the large Sea of Okhotsk populations of White-tailed eagle and Stellers Sea-eagle congregate there. I have seen a mixed bag of 160 eagles sitting on the breakwater at Rauso, a small fishing town on Hokkaido, waiting for the fishing fleet to come in, and getting the offal and unsaleable small fish.

  35. #35 Darren Naish
    January 18, 2011

    That reminds me… I said that the Bald eagle was North America’s only Haliaeetus eagle, but forgot that Steller’s sea eagle has sometimes occurred as far east as Kodiak Island.

  36. #36 John Harshman
    January 18, 2011

    Speaking of the wimpy cries of bald eagles, they are indeed, so much so that on American television they are universally redubbed with the screams of red-tailed hawks, a much more impressive sound. In fact, most Americans believe that’s what bald eagles sound like.

  37. #37 Dartian
    January 18, 2011

    Darren:

    I said that the Bald eagle was North America’s only Haliaeetus eagle, but forgot that Steller’s sea eagle has sometimes occurred as far east as Kodiak Island.

    And the white-tailed eagle breeds in Greenland, which is technically part of North America.

  38. #38 darwinsdog
    January 18, 2011

    Both crows & ravens occur here in NWern NM, with ravens being predominant. Chihuahuan ravens don’t occur here but I saw one only about 100 km south of here, so they’re probably expanding their range northward. In my experience, ravens mob & harass pretty much any bird bigger than they are. I’ve never seen them bother kestrels or sparrowhawks or “grasshopper falcons,” as I call them, but kingbirds (Western &/or Cassin’s) certainly do. Crows, ravens, & black-billed magpies seem to especially have it in for owls. When there’s a great-horned owl roosting in the spruce windbreak, there’s a ruckus when the corvids find it.

    Every year since at least 2003 a pair of sharp-shinned accipiters have nested in a large cottonwood on my property. Initially they would be gone in winter but in recent years they seem to have become year round residents. I attribute this change in migratory behavior to the arrival about five years ago of Eurasian collared doves. The population of this invasive exotic has exploded and they provide easy pickings for the accipiters, along with the abundant Gambel’s quail under the riparian thickets. I wonder what impact the arrival of the collared doves will have on mourning doves. Mourning doves still seem abundant but are rapidly being outnumbered by the collared doves. (Say’s phoebe is another bird that used to migrate but has begun to overwinter in recent years. AGW?)

    About a decade ago corvids really had their numbers whacked down by the West Nile virus. I noted this first on the east coast (was living on Long Island back then) and a few years later in New Mexico (and I assume their populations were impacted in parts in between). Ravens seemed to be more resistant but crows & magpies were hard hit. Magpies, especially, practically disappeared along the San Juan corridor. There’s more again today but I don’t think that their numbers have fully recovered. At least there isn’t a mob of them on & around every dumpster these days, as there was back in the 1980s.

    Every raptor in the range can be seen here, either up on the mesa above the river or along the riparian corridor. White-headed eagles (in winter) and ospreys occur along the river and I’ve seen a goshawk under the riparian bosque. Sharp-shinned accipiters are endemic to the gallery forest. Cooper’s accipiter is more a bird of the open farmlands & Great Basin desertscrub (Artemisia) communities and can commonly be seen up on the farm. Golden eagles & prairie falcons are fairly common and peregrine falcons are occasionally seen. The most common raptor is the red-tailed buteo and the ferruginous buteo is often confused with the red-tailed. As I mentioned, rough-legged buteos can be seen in winter. Harriers are quite common. Merlins undoubtedly occur here but I’ve probably just taken them for the ubiquitous grasshopper falcon.

  39. #39 Darren Naish
    January 18, 2011

    Darwinsdog – nice comment, thanks… but I confess to being interested in your use of ‘White-headed eagle’, a name I’ve only heard being applied by Europeans before. Is this term more common in the US than I’m aware, or is it that you’re an outlier, or what? Genuinely curious!

  40. #40 Samuel Elánius
    January 18, 2011

    Bohemian Waxwing..what a funny name,they occur here only in winter,and they are relative unknown birds here

    by the way,i saw about 20-25 white-tailed egles on Nové mlýny dam(pretty weird place,altrought its construction destroyed rare Flooded forest ecosystem,the dam itself became quickly an important place where thousands and thousand of migratory birds spend winter(or rest here for a while and then continue to south europe)

  41. #41 Adam F
    January 18, 2011

    I live in the US and I’ve never heard the term “White-Headed Eagle” before. It is more accurate, although it doesn’t flow as well on account of having 2 extra syllables. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that we didn’t wind up with a “Powdered-Wig Eagle” considering the headwear of our founding fathers.

  42. #42 David Houston
    January 18, 2011

    |As soon as you publish new names.

    |There is no central committee that does such things. Taxonomic freedom.

    The AOU functions as such for North American birds, in that they do a competent job, have taken on the work, and are pretty universally recognized as the best local source. But, ja, I don’t believe they have any OFFICIAL standing.

  43. #43 David Houston
    January 18, 2011

    Re: Darwinsdog’s comment
    “kestrels or sparrowhawks or “grasshopper falcons,”

    For non-North Americans, that’s all one bird, the American Kestrel, Falco sparverius (if I got that correct)

    Mind you, ‘grasshopper falcon’ is a much better name for the bird than ‘sparrow hawk’.

    Trivia: Black Hawk (the famous Indian/Native American leader, source for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team name, etc.) is apparently ‘Black Sparrowhawk’, except that no-one bothered to be that specific on translating his name.

  44. #44 dhogaza
    January 18, 2011

    I live in the US and I’ve never heard the term “White-Headed Eagle” before. It is more accurate

    Not really, the “bald” in “bald eagle” means “white”, and it entered english this way before it became the adjective we associate with hairlessness about the human skull parts. When english immigrants to the new world first saw bald eagles, the use of “bald” to refer to their white heads would’ve been much more readily understood than is true for modern english speakers.

    Baldness does leave the typical English male with a bright, shiny, *white* head if you think about it :)

    An archaic name for american widgeon is baldpate, for instance. “piebald” refers to an animal patterned with white and (typically) black. etc.

    The AOU functions as such for North American birds, in that they do a competent job, have taken on the work, and are pretty universally recognized as the best local source. But, ja, I don’t believe they have any OFFICIAL standing.

    Yes, they do, and are codified in 4-letter abbreviations, too.

    So “sharp-shinned accipiter” is officially “sharp-shinned hawk” (SSHA), “red-tailed buteo” is “red-tailed hawk” (RTHA), etc.

  45. #45 darwinsdog
    January 18, 2011

    Well, Darren, leucocephalus means “white-headed.” I don’t like calling them “bald” eagles because they aren’t bald. I might call Cathartes aura a bald-headed vulture, though. Most USAns will say “bald” eagle, so I guess that I’m an outlier, but when I say white-headed eagle everyone knows that I mean Haliaeetus leucocephalus rather than Aquila chrysaetos. Those are our only two eagles, outside Alaska & Greenland, anyway. Likewise, when I call Falco sparverius a grasshopper falcon, people familiar with the avifauna, at least, know what I’m talking about and usually regard it as being a more apt descriptor of the bird than are the more widely used common names. If the AOU can’t even have the binomial taxonomy accord with the systematics, I’m sure not going to pay any attention to what they say are the “official” common names.

  46. #46 darwinsdog
    January 18, 2011

    David: There’s a black buteo Buteogallus anthracinus that is very rare in the US. There’s only two places I know of where it can commonly be seen: Where the forks of the Rio Gila come together, and in the San Francisco Box along the north end of the Burro Mountains near the Arizona/New Mexico state line.

    A few years ago the lamestream media was reporting sitings of a pterosaur over southwestern Alaska & the Cook Inlet region. Witnesses were saying that it had a wing-span equal to that of a Cessna 150 airplane. It turned out to be Haliaeetus pelagicus, of course.

  47. #47 DawnG
    January 18, 2011

    The bald eagle was removed from the U.S. threatened and endangered species list in 2007, so there is hope for other eagles. Over the last 20 years, I have noticed a large increase in the number of wintering and nesting bald eagles in Oregon (NW USA) where I live. You can never have too many eagles!

  48. #48 Calli Arcale
    January 19, 2011

    John Harshman:

    Speaking of the wimpy cries of bald eagles, they are indeed, so much so that on American television they are universally redubbed with the screams of red-tailed hawks, a much more impressive sound. In fact, most Americans believe that’s what bald eagles sound like.

    I dunno about “universally”; as they become more common in the contiguous 48, and more people become familiar with their cry, I expect we’ll stop hearing the stock hawk cry. (On the other hand, if you think it’s weird that they get overdubbed with a hawk, have you noticed that by and large it’s even the exact same hawk and it’s used for almost everything, including vultures and crows? Sound guys for television tend to be economical, as they usually have to get suitable FX in a hurry, so there is more reuse than people realize.)

    I wouldn’t call the bald eagle call “wimpy”, though. On the other hand, the place I’ve most often heard it is at the zoo, where permanently injured birds are kept and shown to guests for educational purposes, which means I’ve mostly heard it at very close range, and often in an enclosed space. And right now, with their auditorium under renovation, the World of Birds show has been scaled back to a no-fly demonstration in the aquarium section, which means MASSIVE ECHO CHAMBER! Last time I was there, when they brought the eagle out, she seemed a little pissed. Or maybe she was just enjoying the acoustics. In any case, she raised a fair racket with that “wimpy” call. It can get pretty shrill, and of course, then she *looks* at you, right dead in the eye, with those intense, golden eyes…. And then you are glad she’s lame and cannot fly, because you get the strong feeling she’d be dive-bombing you otherwise. As it is, she’s settling for screaming what appear to be chirpy eagle obscenities at you.

  49. #49 dhogaza
    January 19, 2011

    Well, Darren, leucocephalus means “white-headed.” I don’t like calling them “bald” eagles because they aren’t bald.

    Well, yes, they are, because as stated before (by me), “bald” was generally meant to mean “white” in the context of the English who named it in the late 1600s. And still lives in that sense in words like “piebald”.

    And “leucephalus” was derived from “bald” in the scientific description of the species, which was based on the discovery of early English settlers here.

    The fact that you can’t accept that “bald” has a meaning you’re unaware of (and which was much more commonly understood 300+ years ago, when the bald eagle was first named), is no excuse.

    I’ll also stand on my post pointing out that the AOU codifies common names, and uses them as the basis for the 4-letter official AOU abbreviations for data entry.

    They know what “bald” meant 300 years ago, and so do I.

  50. #50 dhogaza
    January 19, 2011

    If the AOU can’t even have the binomial taxonomy accord with the systematics, I’m sure not going to pay any attention to what they say are the “official” common names.

    Oh, gosh, a self-described genius, like those who prove that generally understood atmospheric physics violates the second law of thermodynamics, as does evolution.

    Crank alert.

    Taxonomy trails systematics (and, indeed, must) as it reflects our best current understanding of systematics, but is only updated periodically by the AOU.

    But then again, Darwin’s Woof-Woof doesn’t actually understand the definition of “bald” in the historic zoological context …

  51. #51 Alice Bluegown
    January 19, 2011

    At least one rather famous bird reserve in East Anglia has a campaign going to get the Bearded Tit referred to as ‘Reedling’ – I fear it’s doomed to failure as the English love to use the word ‘tit’ in any context…

    Plans to officially re-introduce the White-Tailed Eagle in Suffolk are, I believe, on hiatus thanks to sustained opposition from farmers and shooters – it would be immensely satisfying if they returned of their own accord!

  52. #52 Pete Moulton
    January 19, 2011

    My condolences for missing this magnificent bird, Darren; but my many years of hardcore birding, though not hardcore listing, have taught me the valuable lesson that misses outnumber hits, if that’s any consolation.

    Dartian@37: a pair of White-tailed Eagles lived on Attu Island, Alaska for many years. They may still be there for all I know, but there’s no birding access anymore.

  53. #53 darwinsdog
    January 19, 2011

    The fact that you can’t accept that “bald” has a meaning you’re unaware of (and which was much more commonly understood 300+ years ago, when the bald eagle was first named), is no excuse.

    Thank you for providing the etymology of an archaic usage of the word “bald,” dhog. I suppose that there are people who are interested in the origin of words. Personally, I could care less that “bald” may have meant “white” 300 years ago. That was then and this is now. NOW “bald” means “hairless.” It’s stupid to call the white-headed eagle “bald,” especially when there’s only one white-headed eagle that can’t be confused with any other species.

    Oh, gosh, a self-described genius, like those who prove that generally understood atmospheric physics violates the second law of thermodynamics, as does evolution.

    Crank alert.

    Check out the ad hominem! Who is the crank here? Look in a mirror, dhog.

  54. #54 Calli Arcale
    January 19, 2011

    Only one white-headed eagle? Try Haliaeetus vocifer. The only thing keeping it from frequent confusion with the Bald Eagle is a complete lack of overlapping territory. Otherwise, it looks quite similar to a casual observer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Fish_Eagle

    BTW, if you want to fight the English Language for sensible meanings, good luck. Any language happy with the words “thorough” and “enough” is probably not going to be moved.

  55. #55 jason
    January 19, 2011

    So these talkbacks finally explained (I think) why I sometimes get divebombed by neighborhood crows – I’m bald! I guess they lump me in with the local eagle population? This ever happen to anybody else?

  56. #56 Adam F
    January 20, 2011

    That was then and this is now. NOW “bald” means “hairless.”

    Well, technically, according to this definition it’s perfectly accurate to call bald eagles bald. Not a hair on them. Of course, the same is true of all other eagles…

  57. #57 darwinsdog
    January 20, 2011

    Only one white-headed eagle? Try Haliaeetus vocifer.

    So when I’m in Africa and use the term “white-headed eagle,” it will be implicit that I’m speaking of H. vocifer. I’m not in Africa, however. I’m in North America, where “white-headed eagle” can only mean H. LEUCOCEPHALUS.

    BTW, if you want to fight the English Language for sensible meanings, good luck. Any language happy with the words “thorough” and “enough” is probably not going to be moved.

    I routinely spell these words “thoro” & “enuf,” especially in informal correspondance. Language evolves. Archaic usages are of interest only to philologists & cranks.

    That was then and this is now. NOW “bald” means “hairless.”

    Well, technically, according to this definition it’s perfectly accurate to call bald eagles bald. Not a hair on them. Of course, the same is true of all other eagles…

    Do you think it adds anything meaningful to call all eagles, or all birds for that matter, “bald,” Adam?

    My Christmas bird list: 24 bald white-crowned sparrows, 17 bald dark-eyed juncos, 2 bald black-capped chickadees, 1 bald mountain chickadee, 7 bald ravens, 15 bald Gambel’s quail, 5 bald mourning doves … Brilliant!

  58. #58 Calli Arcale
    January 22, 2011

    Language does indeed evolve, but generally not to the whim of individuals, which is my point, darwinsdog. The comprehensibility of language depends on the shared usage of a group of individuals; if you’re the only one calling them “white-headed eagles” you’re going to have a lot of people thinking you’re so ignorant you don’t even know what the national bird of the United States is called, while you’re busy thinking you’re so progressive for calling it something sensible. Truthfully, the average person probably doesn’t even think about “bald” being inaccurate in this usage, any more than they think about it being weird that Rhode Island is not, in fact, a single island. It’s just the bird’s name.

    I’ve met a lot of people on the ‘net who thought they could win arguments by defining words differently from everyone else, but you’re the only one I’ve met who elected to rename one of the most famous raptors in the world as if this proved something. Are you going to object next that a tit doesn’t have mammaries? Or that a nightingale has nothing to do with a nocturnal windstorm? Or that a sapsucker does not, in fact, suck sap? That’s natural language for you.

    I’ll grant that people will figure out pretty quickly what bird you mean if you call it a white-headed eagle. However, you must then accept that their first thought will be “good grief, hasn’t he ever heard of a bald eagle before?”

  59. #59 David Marjanović
    January 23, 2011

    Or that a nightingale has nothing to do with a nocturnal windstorm?

    I think that’s related to yelling instead, obscured by the fact that g turned into y in front of e and i in English in the Early Middle Ages.

  60. #60 John Harshman
    January 25, 2011

    And sapsuckers do indeed suck sap. Or at least they drink it, which ought to be close enough.

  61. #61 TheBrummell
    January 26, 2011

    As long as we’re sharing our mobbed-by-birds stories…

    I got to watch a pair of Parasitic Jaegers (Stercorarius parasiticus) in a 2-on-2 fight with a pair of Gryfalcons (Falco rusticolus) a couple of years ago, at a place called Alexandra Fjord on Ellesmere Island. It wasn’t so much a mobbing by either species, rather it looked like a pretty evenly matched fight between two mated pairs of antagonists. The Gryfalcons had the advantage in speed and acceleration (especially steep climbs and dives), the Jaegers the advantage at tight, sudden turns and endurance; all four birds seemed evenly matched in armament, with longer beaks compensating for weaker talons on the Jaegers. Also, I think the Jaegers were better at working together, and singling out only one of the Gyrfalcons at a time for their attentions.

    It was a pretty spectacular fight, but they roamed off over towards the far side of the fjord fairly quickly and I didn’t learn who won. Not surprising, really, considering the kinds of airspeeds both species are capable of acheiving.

    Also, this whole spat over the word “bald” is pretty silly.

  62. #62 Elvin
    February 4, 2011

    There is research out there that the sea eagle eats bitterns, lambs and poultry

  63. #63 Keith Veliz
    February 9, 2011

    15 of these were re introduced into our area recently, which caused a bit of furore amongst the farming community even though experts told them they had nothing to fear. 12 months on and 3 are dead already, possibly poisoned.
    http://www.articlespeak.com/leanspa-cleanse-review/

  64. #64 Mike Taylor
    February 21, 2011

    No need to drive around Hampshire – go to Scotland and the Western Isles to see them! They really are great birds – last time we saw one was soaring against the north cliff face of the Isle of Eigg as we were walking along the talus slope below. They’re also great for the local tourist industry as shown by a recent survey in Mull, I believe.