White-tailed eagle adult stooping for fish


Learn about white tailed eagles and how they behave.

Breeding behaviour

Resident birds often roost and loaf close to the nesting area throughout the year. They are highly sociable birds, and juveniles sometimes gather in loose associations, of up to 10 individuals. In Europe, concentrations of 30 to 40 have been recorded at roosts, and locally abundant food sources.

The pair bond is monogamous and usually life-long, although if one of the pair dies, a replacement can occur quickly. The initial pair formation generally happens when the adults are around five years old, when a permanent home range has been chosen.

Unpaired adults can seriously disrupt the nesting attempts of established pairs. This sometimes results in a change in the pairing if one adult is killed in a territorial dispute. It’s often the males who are replaced in such encounters.

Juvenile White-tailed Eagle at The RSPB East Scotland Sea Eagle Project.

Eagle competition

In the UK, the golden eagle and white-tailed eagle often live side-by-side, and the two species can readily coexist. In some locations, the diets of the two species can at times be similar, so there can be competition for food between the species.

When in direct competition for carcasses in the winter, golden eagles are strongly dominant over white-tailed eagles. Being stronger fliers, golden eagles also usually prevail in aerial conflicts. However, despite being inferior in direct competition, the white-tailed eagle can sometimes be the dominant species of the two and have occasionally ousted golden eagles from their nest sites. In Scotland it’s likely some old white-tailed eagle nest sites were occupied by golden eagles after white-tailed eagles became extinct in 1918. They can be more tenacious, have a wider diet and can survive on less food than the golden eagle.

Competition for nest sites is unlikely to be important. White-tailed eagles often prefer to nest in trees, and golden eagles on cliff ledges, although both species can nest in a variety of habitats. Where competition between the two species exists, such as in parts of western Scotland, this has been brought about by several centuries of deforestation and overgrazing, which has impoverished and degraded the habitat, reducing its ability to support higher densities of these top predators.

White-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.