Mull Wildlife

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.

Wintering
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.

Top of Page


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 diffrence 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.

Top of Page


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.

Wintering
Similar to breeding habitats. Northern European birds will move south to lakes and estuaries in winter.

What does a White Tailed Sea Eagle eat?
The White Tailed Sea Eagle's diet is varied, including fish, birds, carrion and sometimes rodents.

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.

Top of Page


Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus

The Bottlenose Dolphin is the most common and well-known dolphin species. It inhabits warm and temperate seas worldwide and may be found in all but the Arctic and the Antarctic Oceans.

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).

Top of Page


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.

Top of Page


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.

Wintering
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.

Top of Page