Jonathan : I’m feeling down in the dumps. The problem with the Golden Eagle attacks has gone from bad to worse. After the attack by an eagle actually caught in the act by Shona back in February, the chickens were locked up in the big hen house for nearly two weeks to break the eagle’s cycle of expectation and fulfillment. We took the opportunity to introduce six new pullets, reared at home in the walled garden, as we usually shut them in with the rest of the flock for a few days to get them settled in and bonded with the others. During that time, I created six field shelters from matching pairs of pallets (each pair fixed together into a tent-like structure), scattered around in the area near the hen house most favoured by the chickens. When we let them out again – it was early last week, those glorious 2-3 days of summer-like weather – the chickens clearly understood the benefit of the field shelters – they were generally to be seen under or near the shelters. Job done?
Hmm. Apparently not! Thursday morning I found the remains of a Welsumer hen at the start of her third laying year. Very little left of her other than a drift of feathers and a pair of legs still with identification rings. The next day, as I was working at the croft store, I heard gulls bickering nearby – which is unusual (it may surprise some readers to learn that classice sound of gulls by the seaside is typical of seaside towns and fishing harbours where birds are continually competing for scraps). It took a moment for it to register that they were bickering over a prospective meal, but as I raced down the croft towards the shore, I could see the gulls circling overhead, below them a golden eagle lifted away from the ground right beside the hen house, spooked by the commotion. There on the ground was my favourite Cream Crested Legbar : she was hot from the rush of blood in the drama of life and death. There was a small pool of fine feathers about her, but otherwise she seemed intact – no blood, but a surface tear of her skin on her belly from the eagle’s claws. But she was dead: it seemed as if every bone in her body was broken – her legs and wings flopping un-naturally with gravity and her head drooping down. Pitiful.
The eagle had flown away towards the causeway, but turned back east along the Sound of Eriskay, almost certainly returning to its nest site near Bath Thartabhagh, at the extreme south-eastern tip of South Uist, at the end of a wild and uninhabited peninsula – uninhabited by man, that is. Once the gulls had realized he was returning empty-handed, they lost interest and stopped mobbing him, and dispersed to find other food – and by their own efforts. All the rest of the chickens had retreated into the hen-house, so as it was already late in the day I left them to sleep off their fears. I went home for an evening meal and to break the bad news to Denise. We agreed to shut in the chickens for another few days, as before.
The following morning I went over to the croft early to switch the automatic door to locked-down. But too late. All the chickens were still in the hen-house – except one. Another hen starting her second laying year, torn apart – and just outside the hen house, too. That’s now ten birds lost in just six weeks. I locked the chickens into the shed, and there they’ve stayed since.
For a few days I couldn’t face thinking about the problem : I could see no way forward – only a hopeless retreat. But yesterday I finally stirred myself into action, writing to the only people I know who have the power to deal with the problem at source: Scottish Natural Heritage. I wrote to them as follows:
I have a problem with a golden eagle (probably the same individual every time) taking poultry from my croft. I have actually witnessed this several times, and in one case have photos – the eagle actually carried the hen to right by our house to kill it off and start eating it, before carrying it away. The rate of loss is unsustainable. Very recently I lost three birds in 24hrs. I’ve had to shut all the chickens in the hen house for a few days to try and break the eagle’s routine. I’ve tried this before, and it works for a while, but as soon as the eagle comes back and successfully take a chicken, it’s soon back for more. Last year I lost two lambs to birds of prey, and with this year’s lambing imminent I am very concerned I’m going to lose more. I am concerned – very concerned – that unless something can be done, there will be absolutely no point me continuing to work the croft, and after nearly ten years of unremitting hard work bringing a long-derlict croft back into production, at a cost perhaps £50k (plus the house!) …. I’m very reluctant to do anything about the eagles, as they have a right to life just as much as we do, and they are important to our tourism industry, but the costs of this shouldn’t fall to be borne by just a few individuals. Please help or advise.
I shared that with our croft’s community landlord, South Uist Estates (usually though mistakenly referred to as Stòras Uibhist). Well I certainly got a response! Tomorrow (Tuesday) there’ll be a site meeting to discuss. What comes out of though … ?