3 November 2020

Interesting interaction between Beaky (C11) and Skan (C17)


by Rick T.

3 November 2020

Typically, social distancing is not an issue for our four young project Eagles but in the last few weeks two of these youngsters have tested the boundaries a bit.

Female Beaky (C11) and the projects youngest male, Skan (C17) were observed and photographed together by Eagle Officer John Wright exhibiting some of the fascinating behaviours that Golden Eagles use to communicate with each other.

The photos below show such behaviours which included soaring and perching together, parallel flights, mock attacks and talon presentation.

The meaning of such interactions is difficult to assign with any certainty but Eagle Officer John Wright describes the encounter below.

GPS data on the evening of the 20th September showed female C11 (beaky) was roosting in a fairly accessible position for once, so It seemed a good opportunity to visit her the following morning to check her feather moult and condition. It is extremely important not to disturb roosting eagles so I never approach a roost area too early in the morning. Fast moving low cloud shrouded the heather slopes when I suddenly caught a glimpse of a flying Golden Eagle vanishing into the low cloud, close to the previous night’s roost site. I used the steep heather sides of a stream for cover and waited for the thick cloud to blow through. Eventually it did, revealing not one but two Golden Eagles sitting just a few meters apart on a sheep fence.

Both eagles had extremely full crops so had presumably fed not long after first light, perhaps even feeding together on a carcass? The two eagles were female C11 (Beaky) and male C17 (Skan). It was a very different scene to the one that greeted me back in early August 2019, when I arrived in the release valley to find C11 menacingly towering over the recently released juvenile male, C17.

As the sky cleared both eagles lifted off the slope and gained a little height. They began shadowing each other, often wing-tip to wing-tip in a similar way that a pair of Ravens or Red Kites would. Male C17 was the appeared more dominant, with female C11 rolling on to her back several times, legs outstretched and talons splayed as C17 closely tailed her. The whole flight display lasted about eight minutes, C11 eventually breaking away and going low east. Male C17 performed a short undulating flight before landing back on the heather slope, 400m away from me. Whilst the flight display had elements of aggression it also clearly had elements commonly seen between an established pair of Golden Eagles.

Whilst there were elements of both courtship and territorial behaviours in their interaction, the birds parted ways shortly afterwards and have not been together since. Neither bird favours a particular area and although Beaky (C11) is approaching the age where she could settle on a territory she has, as yet, shown no signs of doing so. Skan (C17), being a year younger, is most likely to wander for a while yet.

As you can see in the pictures, both birds had bulging crops, indicating that they had eaten very recently. Typically, that would mean a spell of inactivity but that was not the case for these two birds that day.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop but whatever happens it’s always a privilege to witness such beautiful Golden Eagle behaviour in the most southern extreme of their UK range.