Rare eagle seen over Norfolk after UK extinction 240 years ago
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A rare bird of prey with a 2.2m wing span has been spotted flying in Norfolk skies in one of very few confirmed sightings in the last two centuries.
The white-tailed eagle, also known as the sea eagle, became extinct in the UK during the 18th century, but has been successfully reintroduced off the west coast of Scotland and also on the Isle of Wight last year.
They are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 and, as of 2015, have been classified as red under the Birds of Conservation Concern list.
The four juvenile white-tailed eagles reintroduced on the Isle of Wight have been tracked by conservationists from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England via GPS.
Despite being relatively dormant over winter, tracking data reveals some of the birds have flown over several English counties, including a stop-over in Norfolk between April 4 and 6 for one of the eagles, named G324.
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The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation documented her flight path: “She was flying north-east through Cambridgeshire at an altitude of 720 metres and that night she roosted in arable farmland just north of Lakenheath Fen RSPB reserve in south-west Norfolk after a flight of 245km (152 miles).
“Next day she continued north-east for another 64km (40 miles) and reached an area of private land close to Cley on the north Norfolk coast.
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“She remained in that area until the morning of April 6 but set of south soon after 1pm before roosting in a small wood near the village of Peasenhall in Suffolk, having flown 80km (50 miles) during the course of the day.”
White-tailed eagles are the UK’s largest bird of prey, with an average wingspan of around 2.2 metres, and can live for up to 25 years.
Adults are noticeable by their white, wedge-shaped tail and pale head with yellow bill, and are more likely to be spotted close to the coast due to their liking for fish.
They do not feed exclusively on sea life, however, with small mammals and birds also forming part of their diet.
Sightings of these huge hunters in Norfolk are extremely rare, but not unheard of – in 2017, photographer James Lowen caught one on camera in flight at the Buckenham Marshes Nature Reserve.