The white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) is the largest bird of prey in the Gulf of Finland region, with its wingspan extending to 2.5 metres. A flying white-tailed eagle can be recognized by its rough and slow wing flaps – figuratively speaking, it reminds a „flying carpet“.
White-tailed eagles forage mainly in coastal areas and on larger inland waterbodies. They feed mainly on fish (e.g. Prussian carp, garfish) and waterfowl (ducks, gulls), in winter often also on perished animals. A pair of white-tailed eagles usually builds its nest in the top of a pine or aspen close to the sea.
The numbers of white-tailed eagle around the Baltic Sea declined in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, mainly due to persecution. Shooting white-tailed eagles during their nesting season became prohibited in Estonia in 1934 but this did not stop the killing and decline of the eagles. Pesticides DDT and PCB and other organochlorine compounds, which were introduced in Europe in the 1940ies, had a devastating effect on the fecundity of white-tailed eagles around the Baltic Sea.
The white-tailed eagle was classified as a protected species in Estonia in 1957, and the use of DDT was banned in 1968. Conservation management efforts for white-tailed eagles started in Northern Europe in the 1970ies, e.g. the eagles were fed with clean, low-pesticide food in winter and artificial nests were built for them. These activities have been going on also in Estonia since 1984. As a result of the pesticide ban and national protection of white-tailed eagles, their numbers in Estonia began to increase in the 1980ies and continue to increase. The numbers of white-tailed eagles in North Estonia began to increase later, in the 1990ies. By now, over 20 pairs of white-tailed eagles nest in North Estonia (figure).
White-tailed eagles are long-lived birds that can live up to 30 years old. As they have low fecundity and are faithful to their nesting site and sensitive to disturbance, their habitats need to be preserved. The white-tailed eagle is a species of protection category I in Estonia.
Further information on white-tailed eagles: