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Golden eagle

Symbolic for many people of Scotland’s wild uplands, the golden eagle is a powerful and agile hunter.

Golden eagles take a variety of live prey, including a wide range of medium-sized birds and mammals. Hares and rabbits and grouse are often favoured. Golden eagles very rarely tackle adult deer, but some regularly take live young deer. Most deer is eaten as carrion in winter.

Nests – also known as eyries – are usually located on remote and inaccessible crags and cliffs, well away from human disturbance. They are sometimes also found in trees. Some nests are used for many years and become very large as they are built up year after year.

Persecution of the golden eagle

Perceived conflicts between golden eagles and people’s use of the uplands caused the bird to be heavily persecuted for many decades. Illegal activity still occurs in some parts of Scotland.

Golden eagles have been studied in Scotland for many years. A 2015 national survey found that Scotland now has 508 breeding pairs. This figure has increased since the previous survey, which was conducted in 2003. Breaking the 500-pair milestone means that, at a national level, the species has exceeded the national target for favourable conservation status, as set out in: A conservation framework for golden eagles: SNH Commissioned Report No. 193.

We haven’t yet seen the species fully recover at a regional level. This is due to:

  • ongoing persecution in the eastern Highlands
  • poor quality habitat and insufficient live prey in parts of the western Highlands
  • lack of recruitment of young birds in the Southern Uplands

Scottish Natural Heritage supports the ongoing monitoring of eagles and other birds of prey by providing funding to the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme.

Protection of golden eagles

Find out how Scotland’s wild birds are protected.

Learn about birds and licensing.