Aros Mains Guide to Wildlife on the Isle of Mull
Isle of Mull Wildlife
Sea Eagle Acrobatic Dive, by Jane M Lines, was captured as it started its dive on Loch Na Keal Isle of Mull. A magnificent bird with an incredible 8ft wing span.
Golden Eagle - Aquila Chrysaetos
A huge bird of prey, with only the White Tailed Sea Eagle larger in the UK. With its long broad wings and longish tail, it has a different outline to the smaller buzzard. It likes to soar and glide on air currents, holding its wings in a shallow 'V'. Eagles have traditional territories and nesting places which may be used by generations. they have been persecuted in the past and are still occasionally poisoned, or have their nests robbed.
A pair of Golden Eagles remains together for life. They build several eyries within their territory and use them alternately for several years. The nest consists of heavy tree branches, upholstered with grass.
Old eyries may be 2 metres (6.6 ft) in diameter and 1 metre (3.3 ft) in height, as the eagles enlarge their nests every year. If the eyrie is situated on a tree, supporting tree branches may break because of the weight of the nest.
The female lays two eggs between January and May (depending on the area). After 45 days the young hatch. They are entirely white and are fed for fifty days before they are able to make their first flight attempts and eat on their own. In most cases only the older chick, which takes most of the food, survives, while the younger one dies before leaving the eyrie.
Adult Golden Eagles have an average length of 75-85 cm (30-34"), a wingspan of 150-210 cm (59-83"), and a weight of 3-5 kg (7-11 lb). As in all birds of prey, the females are generally slightly larger than the males. The largest golden eagle on record was a huge 10 kg (22 lb) female in a national park in Spain she also held the record for the tallest Golden eagle, standing 90 cm (36").
Where does a Golden Eagle live?
Inhabits high moorland, mountains and remote islands where there are plenty of open areas to feed over. Tends to avoid places with large areas of forestry.
Similar to breeding habitats.
Where to see a Golden Eagle
It lives in the wild, open moorlands and mountains of Scotland, favouring islands and remote glens. Best looked for soaring high over hillsides in the Scottish Highlands. The few English eagles can be looked for at the RSPB's Haweswater Reserve and watchpoint in Cumbria.
What does a Golden Eagle eat?
Golden Eagles often have a division of labour while hunting: one partner drives the prey to its waiting partner. Their prey includes marmots, hares and mice, and sometimes birds, martens, foxes and young deer. Large mammals like chamois or adult deer can only be taken if they are wounded or sick.
What does a Golden Eagle sound like?
Occasional yelping calls
When to see a Golden Eagle
All year round. Look for displaying birds, with their looping and plunging flights, on fine days in winter and early spring.
Otter - Lutra Lutra
The European Otter, Lutra lutra, is a European member of the Mustelidae or weasel family, and is typical of freshwater otters. It may also be known as the Eurasian river otter, common otter, or Old World otter. For the rest of this article 'otter' will refer specifically to the European otter, although the information may be applicable to other otter species.
Where does an Otter live?
Otters are strongly territorial, living alone for the most part, with individual's home ranges varying between 1-40 km, with about 18 km being usual, depending on the density of food available. Males and females will breed at any time of the year when mating takes place in water. After a gestation period of about 63 days 1-4 pups are born, which remain dependent on the mother for a year. The male plays no role in parental care, because a few days before the young otters are born, the female otter begins to bite her partner until the male otter leaves. Otherwise the male otter would probably eat his young generation, because he is not able to tell the difference between rats and new born otters.
Where to see an Otter
The European otter is the most widely distributed otter species, the name being something of a misnomer, as the species' range includes parts of Asia and Africa, as well as being spread across Europe. The otter is believed to be extinct in Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Otters are now very common along the coast of Norway and in Northern Britain, especially Shetland and London where 12% of the UK breeding population exist.
What does an Otter eat?
An otter's diet mainly consists of fish but can also include birds, insects, frogs, crustaceans and sometimes small mammals. In general this opportunism means they may inhabit any unpolluted body of freshwater, including lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds, as long as there is good supply of food. Otters may also live along the coast, in salt water, but require regular access to freshwater to clean their fur.
Hunting mainly takes place at night, while the day is usually spent in the otter's holt, a burrow in the riverbank which can only be entered from underwater.
White Tailed Sea Eagle - Haliaeetus Albicilla
The White Tailed Eagle is the largest UK bird of prey. It has brown body plumage with a conspicuously pale head and neck which can be almost white in older birds, and the tail feathers of adults are white. In flight it has massive long, broad wings with 'fingered' ends. Its head protrudes and it has a short, wedge-shaped tail. It was persecuted to extinction in the Uk in the early 19th century and the present population has been reintroduced.
Where does a White Tailed Sea Eagle live?
Mainly a coastal species, White Tailed Sea Eagles prefer rocky coastlines. They also live near rivers and large lakes, occurring several hundred miles inland in Europe and Russia.
Where to see a White Tailed Sea Eagle
The White Tailed Sea Eagle is a rare breeding bird which is confined to the west coast of Scotland.
Similar to breeding habitats. Northern European birds will move south to lakes and estuaries in winter.
What does a White Tailed Sea Eagle sound like?
The White Tailed Sea Eagle makes a yelping cry made up of 15-30 short 'yaps'
When to see a White Tailed Sea Eagle
You can see a White Tailed Sea Eagle all year round.
The White Tailed Eagle, also known as the Sea Eagle, Erne or White Tailed Sea Eagle is a very large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which includes other raptors such as hawks, kites and harriers.
This is a very large eagle which breeds in northern Europe and Asia. It has been successfully re-introduced to the Western Isles of Scotland, and it now breeds on the islands of Mull, Skye, Lewis as well as the mainland coast of Wester Ross. The White Tailed Eagle is still a rare breeder in Britain following its extinction and reintroduction. The largest population in Europe is found along the coast of Norway.
This is a huge bird, 76-92 cm long with a 190-240 cm wingspan. Females are significantly larger than the males. The White-tailed Eagle has broad "barn door" wings, a large head and thick "meat-cleaver" beak. The adult is mainly brown except for the paler head and neck, distinctive white tail and yellow bill and legs. In juvenile birds the tail and bill are darker, with the tail becoming white with a dark terminal band in sub-adults.
White Tailed Eagles are sexually mature at 4 or 5 years of age. The nest is a huge edifice of sticks in a tree or on a coastal cliff. Nests are often reused. Mated pairs produce one to three eggs per year.
Surplus chicks are sometimes removed from nests to use in reintroduction programs in areas where the species has died out. In such programs, the birds are raised in boxes on platforms in the tree canopy and fed in such a way that they cannot see the person supplying their food, until they are old enough to fly and thus find their own food.
The White Tailed Eagle is believed to be the one shown in the Polish Coat of Arms.
Bottlenose Dolphin - Tursiops Truncatus
Bottlenose Dolphins are grey, varying from dark grey at the top near the dorsal fin to very light grey and almost white at the underside. The salt water makes them hard to see both from above and below when swimming. The elongated upper and lower jaws give the animals their name of bottlenose. The real nose however is the blowhole on top of the head, and the nasal septum is visible when the blowhole is open. Their face shows a characteristic "smile".
Adults range in length from 2 to 4m (6 to 13 feet) and in weight from 150 to 650kg (330 to 1430 pounds) with males being slightly longer and considerably heavier than females on average. The size of the dolphin appears to vary considerably with habitat. Most research in this area has been restricted to the North Atlantic Ocean, where researchers (Hersh and Duffield, 1990) have identified two ecotypes. Those dolphins in warmer, shallower waters tend to have a smaller body than their cousins in cooler pelagic waters. For example a survey of animals in the Moray Firth in Scotland, the world's northernmost resident population, recorded an average adult length of just under 4m (13 feet). This compares with a 2.5m (8 feet) average in a population off Florida. Those in colder waters also have a fattier composition and blood more suited to deep-diving.
The flukes (lobes of the tail) and dorsal fin are formed of dense connective tissue and don't contain bones or muscle. The animal propels forward by moving the flukes up and down. The pectoral flippers (at the sides of the body) serve for steering; they contain bones clearly homologous to the forelimbs of land mammals (from which dolphins and all other cetaceans evolved some 50 million years ago).
Minke Whale - Balaenoptera Acutorostrata
The Minke Whale is the second smallest of the baleen whales - only the Pygmy Right Whale is smaller. Male and female Minke Whales measure an average of 6.9 and 7.4 metres (22'8" to 24' 3") in length, respectively, at sexual maturity (6-8 years of age). Estimates of maximum length vary from 9.1m to 10.7m (28'10" to 35'1") for females and 8.8m to 9.8m (28'8" 10" to 32'5") for males. Both sexes typically weigh 4-5 tonnes at maturity, and the maximum weight may be as much as 14 tonnes. The gestation period for Minke Whales is 10 months and babies measure 2.4 to 2.8 metres (7'10" to 9'2") at birth. The newborns nurse for five months.
Minke Whales are distinguished from other whales by a white band on each flipper. The body is usually black or dark-grey above and white underneath. Most of the length of the back, including dorsal fin and blowholes, appears at once when the whale surfaces to breathe. The whale then breathes 3-5 times at short intervals before 'deep-diving' for 2-20 minutes. Deep dives are preceded by a pronounced arching of the back. The maximum swimming speed of minkes has been estimated at 20-30km/h. Minke Whales have between 240 and 360 baleen plates on each side of their mouths. Minke Whales typically live for 30-50 years; in some cases they may live for up to 60 years.
On account of their relative abundance Minke Whales are often the focus of whale-watching cruises setting sail from, for instance, the Isle of Mull in Scotland and Húsavík in Iceland. Minke Whales are frequently inquisitive and will indulge in 'human-watching'. In contrast to the spectacularly acrobatic Humpback Whale, minkes do not raise their fluke out of the water when diving and are less likely to breach (jump clear of the sea surface). This, combined with the fact that minkes can dive under water for as long as twenty minutes, has led some whale-watching enthusiasts to label them 'stinky minkes'. The name may also be applied because it is frequently possible to smell the breath of a Minke Whale whilst observing it from a boat.
Hen Harrier - Circus Cyaneus
Of the UK's birds of prey, this is the most intensively persecuted. Once predating free-range fowl, earning its present name, its effect on the number of grouse available to shoot is the cause of modern conflict and threatens its survival in some parts of the UK. While males are a pale grey colour, females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail which give them the name 'ringtail'. They fly with wings held in a shallow 'V', gliding low in search of food.
Where does a Hen Harrier live?
In the UK, it is entirely restricted to heather moorlands, usually below 500m and especially where there is old, deep (35-60cm) heather. Young conifer plantations are also used. Moors managed for grouse shooting are particularly attractive to Hen Harriers because they have vegetation of mixed ages. Hen harriers generally avoid grasslands for breeding but they can be popular for foraging, since they support high numbers of birds and mammals that are the harriers' main prey.
Where to see a Hen Harrier
The Hen Harrier lives in open areas with low vegetation. In the breeding season UK birds are to be found on the upland heather moorlands of Wales, Northern England, N Ireland and Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man). In winter they move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys. Those found in eastern and south-east England are probably mostly visitors from mainland Europe.
Open countryside - lowland farmland, marshland and conifer plantations in SW Scotland; farmland, fenland, heathlands and river valleys in E and SE England. They roost on saltmarshes, heathland and commonland.
What does a Hen Harrier eat?
Mainly small birds and mammals.
What does a Hen Harrier sound like?
A Hen Harrier is mainly silent
When to see a Hen Harrier
Hen Harriers arrive back on upland breeding areas from late March and stay there until August and September. Away from breeding areas Hen Harriers can be seen from October to March and Continental birds will join residents in October and November.
Red Deer - Cervus elaphus
The red deer is the fourth-largest deer species behind moose, elk and sambar deer. It is a ruminant, eating its food in two stages and having an even number of toes on each hoof, like camels, goats and cattle. European red deer have a relatively long tail compared to their Asian and North American relatives. Subtle differences in appearance are noted between the various subspecies of red deer, primarily in size and antlers, with the smallest being the Corsican red deer found on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia and the largest being the Caspian red deer (or maral) of Asia Minor and the Caucasus Region to the west of the Caspian Sea. The deer of Central and Western Europe vary greatly in size, with some of the largest deer found in the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe. Western European red deer, historically, grew to large size given ample food supply (including people's crops), and descendants of introduced populations living in New Zealand and Argentina have grown quite large in both body and antler size. Large red deer stags, like the Caspian red deer or those of the Carpathian Mountains, may rival the wapiti in size. Female red deer are much smaller than their male counterparts.
The male (stag) red deer is typically 175 to 250 cm (69 to 98 in) long and weighs 160 to 240 kg (350 to 530 lb); the female (hind) is 160 to 210 cm (63 to 83 in) long and weighs 120 to 170 kg (260 to 370 lb). The tail adds another 12 to 19 cm (4.7 to 7.5 in) and shoulder height is about 95 to 130 cm (37 to 51 in). In Scotland, stags average 201 cm (79 in) in head-and-body length and 122 cm (48 in) high at the shoulder and females average 180 cm (71 in) long and 114 cm (45 in) tall. Size varies in different subspecies with the largest, the huge but small-antlered deer of the Carpathian Mountains (C. e. elaphus), weighing up to 500 kg (1,100 lb). At the other end of the scale, the Corsican red deer (C. e. corsicanus) weighs about 80 to 100 kg (180 to 220 lb), although red deer in poor habitats can weigh as little as 53 to 112 kg (120 to 250 lb). European red deer tend to be reddish-brown in their summer coats. The males of many subspecies also grow a short neck mane during the autumn. The male deer of the British Isles and Norway tend to have the thickest and most noticeable manes. Male Caspian red deer (C. e. maral) and Spanish red deer (C. e. hispanicus) do not carry neck manes. Male deer of all subspecies, however, tend to have stronger and thicker neck muscles than female deer, which may give them an appearance of having neck manes. Red deer hinds (females) do not have neck manes. The European red deer is adapted to a woodland environment.
Only the stags have antlers, which start growing in the spring and are shed each year, usually at the end of winter. Antlers typically measure 71 cm (28 in) in total length and weigh 1 kg (2.2 lb), although large ones can grow to 115 cm (45 in) and weigh 5 kg (11 lb). Antlers, which are made of bone, can grow at a rate of 2.5 cm (1 in) a day. A soft covering known as velvet helps to protect newly forming antlers in the spring. European red deer antlers are distinctive in being rather straight and rugose, with the fourth and fifth tines forming a "crown" or "cup" in larger males. Any tines in excess of the fourth and fifth tine will grow radially from the cup, which are generally absent in the antlers of smaller red deer, such as Corsican red deer. Western European red deer antlers feature "bez" (second) tines that are either absent or smaller than the brow tines. However, bez tines occur frequently in Norwegian red deer. Antlers of Caspian red deer carry large bez tines and form less-developed cups than western European red deer, their antlers are thus more like the "throw back" top tines of the wapiti (C. canadensis), known as maraloid characteristics. A stag can (exceptionally) have antlers with no tines, and is then known as a switch. Similarly, a stag that does not grow antlers is a hummel. The antlers are testosterone-driven and as the stag's testosterone levels drop in the autumn, the velvet is shed and the antlers stop growing. With the approach of autumn, the antlers begin to calcify and the stags' testosterone production builds for the approaching rut (mating season).
During the autumn, all red deer subspecies grow thicker coats of hair, which helps to insulate them during the winter. Autumn is also when some of the stags grow their neck manes. The autumn/winter coat of most subspecies are most distinct. The Caspian red deer's winter coat is greyer and has a larger and more distinguished light rump-patch (like wapiti and some central Asian red deer) compared to the Western European red deer, which has more of a greyish-brown coat with a darker yellowish rump patch in the winter. By the time summer begins, the heavy winter coat has been shed; the animals are known to rub against trees and other objects to help remove hair from their bodies. Red deer have different colouration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with grey or lighter colouration prevalent in the winter and more reddish and darker coat colouration in the summer. Most European red deer have reddish-brown summer coats, and some individuals may have a few spots on the backs of their summer coats.
Fallow Deer - Dama dama
The male fallow deer is known as a buck, the female is a doe, and the young a fawn. Adult bucks are 140–160 cm (55–63 in) long, 85–95 cm (33–37 in) in shoulder height, and typically 60–100 kg (130–220 lb) in weight; does are 130–150 cm (51–59 in) long, 75–85 cm (30–33 in) in shoulder height, and 30–50 kg (66–110 lb) in weight. The largest bucks may measure 190 cm (75 in) long and weigh 150 kg (330 lb). Fawns are born in spring around 30 cm (12 in) and weigh around 4.5 kg (9.9 lb). Their lifespan is around 12–16 years.
Much variation occurs in the coat colour of the species, with four main variants: common, menil, melanistic, and leucistic – a genuine colour variety, not albinistic. The white is the lightest coloured, almost white; common and menil are darker, and melanistic is very dark, sometimes even black (easily confused with the sika deer).
- Common: Chestnut coat with white mottles, it is most pronounced in summer with a much darker, unspotted coat in the winter. The light-coloured area around the tail is edged with black. The tail is light with a black stripe.
- Menil: Spots are more distinct than common in summer and no black is seen around the rump patch or on the tail. In winter, spots are still clear on a darker brown coat.
- Melanistic (black): All-year the coat is black shading to greyish brown. No light-coloured tail patch or spots are seen.
- Leucistic (white, but not albino): Fawns are cream-coloured; adults become pure white, especially in winter. Dark eyes and nose are seen, with no spots.
Most herds consist of the common coat variation, yet animals of the menil coat variation are not rare. The melanistic variation is generally rarer, and white is very much rarer still, although wild New Zealand herds often have a high melanistic percentage.
Only bucks have antlers, which are broad and shovel-shaped (palmate) from three years. In the first two years, the antler is a single spike. They are grazing animals; their preferred habitat is mixed woodland and open grassland. During the rut, bucks spread out and females move between them; at this time of year, fallow deer are relatively ungrouped compared to the rest of the year, when they try to stay together in groups of up to 150.
Agile and fast in case of danger, fallow deer can run at a maximum speed of 30 mph (48 km/h) over short distances (being naturally less muscular than other cervids such as roe deer, they are not as fast). Fallow deer can also make jumps up to 1.75 m (5.8 ft) high and up to 5 m (17 ft) in length.
Wild Goats - Capra aegagrus
In the wild, goats live in herds of up to 500 individuals; males are solitary. Female goats go through a period called estrus, when they are ready to reproduce. Collectively for males and females, this means they are in a period of the breeding cycle called rut, which is in the fall, when they are ready to mate. During the rut old males drive younger males from the maternal herds. The gestation period averages 170 days. Does (females) usually give birth to one kid. Kids can follow the mother goat almost immediately after birth. Kids are weaned after 6 months. Female goats reach sexual maturity at 1½–2½ years, males at 3½–4 years. The lifespan of a goat can be from 12 to 22 years.
Basking Shark - Cetorhinus maximus
The basking shark is the second largest living fish, after the whale shark, and one of three plankton-eating sharks along with the whale shark and megamouth shark. Adults typically reach 6–8 m (20–26 ft) in length. They are usually greyish-brown, with mottled skin. The caudal fin has a strong lateral keel and a crescent shape.
The basking shark is a cosmopolitan migratory species, found in all the world's temperate oceans. A slow-moving filter feeder, its common name derives from its habit of feeding at the surface, appearing to be basking in the warmer water there. It has anatomical adaptations for filter feeding, such as a greatly enlarged mouth and highly developed gill rakers. Its snout is conical and the gill slits extend around the top and bottom of its head. The gill rakers, dark and bristle-like, are used to catch plankton as water filters through the mouth and over the gills. The teeth are very small and numerous, and often number one hundred per row. The teeth have a single conical cusp, are curved backwards, and are the same on both the upper and lower jaws. This species has the smallest weight-for-weight brain size of any shark, reflecting its relatively passive lifestyle.
Basking sharks are believed to overwinter in deep waters. They may be found in either small schools or alone. Small schools in the Bay of Fundy and the Hebrides have been seen swimming nose to tail in circles in what may be a form of mating behaviour. Despite their large size and threatening appearance, basking sharks are not aggressive and are harmless to humans.
It has long been a commercially important fish, as a source of food, shark fin, animal feed, and shark liver oil. Overexploitation has reduced its populations to the point where some have disappeared and others need protection.
Puffins - Fratercula
Puffins are any of three small species of alcids (auks) in the bird genus Fratercula with a brightly coloured beak during the breeding season. These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil. Two species, the tufted puffin and horned puffin, are found in the North Pacific Ocean, while the Atlantic puffin is found in the North Atlantic Ocean.
All puffin species have predominantly black or black and white plumage, a stocky build, and large beaks. They shed the colourful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air, they beat their wings rapidly (up to 400 times per minute) in swift flight, often flying low over the ocean's surface.
Aros Mains Visitors Book
A good source of information can be found in our visitor’s book as people list the animals they have seen and their location. A group staying in Castle Cottage for example listed 28 species of birds they had seen from the window in one afternoon.