Look up to the skies over Killarney’s lakes and mountains and you might just see a magnificent eagle soaring overhead. You might not normally associate this regal bird with the southwest of Ireland, but eagles have been a feature of Killarney’s fauna since 2007. The great thing is you don’t have to head out into the wilds to see them: Book a holiday home at Killarney’s Holiday Village, and you may very well spot one or a pair as you wander the lake shore or hike in Killarney National Park. I’ve been lucky enough to see one fly over my car as I drove along the N22!
Taking Flight: Eagles in Killarney
Eagles are not new to Killarney. In fact, white-tailed eagles were once common in Ireland, particularly along western coasts. By the 19th century, however, trapping, shooting, and poisoning had virtually wiped them out. There were still one or two pairs nesting in Mayo and Kerry in 1894, but, by the turn of the 20th century, they were gone, the last one recorded nesting in 1898.
Things took a happier turn for the Killarney eagle in 2007 when a group of 15 white-tailed eagle chicks were flown from Norway and reared in Killarney as part of a series of five-year programmes launched by the Golden Eagle Trust in association with the National Parks and Wildlife Service to introduce the species to Killarney. It has not been all plain sailing though, with eagles falling victim to poisoning and even falling from their nests to their death.
How to Spot an Eagle in Killarney
The adult white-tailed eagle is a brown bird with—you’ve guessed it—a white tail. It has an enormous wingspan of up to 2.45m (8ft), which is the largest wingspan of any eagle. Once you see one, you won’t forget it. Because they feed largely on carrion (dead animals and birds), you will often see groups of crows flying near them, in hopes of grabbing a bite for themselves. The places I’ve seen eagles in Killarney include the lake shores and the areas of Tomies and Purple Mountain. With their massive wings, they cover huge distances very quickly, so you could see them anywhere.
The white-tailed eagle is a magnificent bird that should be present all along our rocky coastlands and among our remotest lakes and bogs. Hopefully, education will prevent further poisoning, given that they present no threat to farm animals, and in fact serve a useful purpose by eating dead animals.
Six chicks fledged successfully from five nests in three different counties in 2016, the most successful year so far in the reintroduction programme, but it is hoped that there will up to 60 pairs of white-tailed eagles in Killarney. These could roam as far as Clew Bay in County Mayo, generating significant local tourism revenue in the process. The white-tailed eagle project also helps Ireland fulfill its obligation to maintain and enhance native wildlife under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.