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Sea eagles enjoy breeding success in Ireland for first time in 100 years

WHITE-tailed sea eagles are breeding in Ireland for the first time in more than 100 years.

The four-year-old male and three-year-old female brought over from Norway have built a nest near the shores of Lough Derg just outside Mountshannon, Co Clare.

Dr Allan Mee, project manager for the Golden Eagle Trust, described the nesting success as "truly momentous".

"It seems a long time since we collected these birds as chicks from nests in the wild in Norway and to see them now nesting in the wild themselves in Ireland is the day we have all been waiting for," he said.

Conservation experts have yet to visit the site to avoid any unnecessary disturbance but they said the behaviour of the birds indicated that they have nested.

The birds, brought as chicks from the island of Froya off the west coast of Norway, were released in Killarney National Park as part of the re-introduction project.

The pair settled near Lough Derg in 2011 and are now nesting 2km (1.24 miles) from the famous Early Christian Monastic site at Holy Island.

White-tailed sea eagles, which became extinct in Ireland in 1898, normally breed when they turn five but breeding pairs as young as three have been recorded in Scotland.

Dr Mee said that there had been hopes the pair would try to nest but breeding had not been expected.

"The odds are stacked against young first-time breeders because they have no experience of nest-building, mating and caring for eggs and young. They have to get everything right to succeed," he said.

"But this pair has impressed us so far. Once they settled down to incubate the clutch of eggs, both parents were very diligent.

"The nest has only very rarely been left unattended and birds have been quick to spot potential dangers such as the presence of hooded crows, which might predate the eggs.

"Since the eggs take some six weeks to hatch, they still have a long way to go. But so far so good."

Over the past four years white-tailed sea eagles have dispersed throughout Ireland, with sightings in Northern Ireland, and at least six birds have travelled to Scotland.

The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), one of the partners in the reintroduction programme, said: "The event is receiving considerable media attention in Norway and we hope the birds will be given the freedom from disturbance they need to maximise the chances of successful breeding."