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Joint Press Release - 15th January 2002

Booted Eagle

Various localities in Britain and Ireland between 5 March 1999 and 22 June 2000

This is a joint Press Release, issued by the British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee (BOURC) in conjunction with the Irish Rare Birds Committee (IRBC) and the Northern Ireland Birdwatchers' Association Records Committee (NIBARC).

The occurrence of what was undoubtedly the same individual pale morph Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus crossing national boundaries required close co-operation between these three committees, as is recommended under the guidelines of the Association of European Rarities Committees (AERC), to ensure that all such records are handled consistently. All three committees have independently reached the same conclusion - that Booted Eagle should be added to Category D of their respective national lists (species that would otherwise appear in Category A except that there is reasonable doubt that they have ever occurred in a natural state).

The assessment process has been prolonged for a number of reasons:

i) there had to be an attempt to reconcile the nearly 30 reported sightings, some for several days or even weeks in one locality, over a period of 15 months, in Ireland, England and Scotland (see table 1, prepared by the IRBC, which shows the chronology of sightings);

ii) there was a need to determine just how many birds were involved, and in particular, to isolate the observations which related to the individual with the distinctive feather damage on both wings;

iii) enquiries had to be made as to the captive status of Booted Eagle in Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe; and

iv) there was the inherent risk of delay in the need for circulation of details of the records to the members of the three committees, working together towards an agreed conclusion.

The first three factors were time-consuming. The fourth point was in the event not a problem, and the full and speedy co-operation between the three committee secretaries and members was a fine example of joint working, with each committee contributing information that was not available to the others.

Most of the records were well documented and many were accompanied by photographs, leaving no doubt about the identification. The photographs confirmed that many of the records related to the same individual, from the characteristic damage to wing and tail feathers. All reports during the period were of pale morph birds and the bird photographed in Ireland could be aged as a juvenile.

There are five reasons why none of the records is acceptable as the first British or Irish record eligible for Category A:

i) the state of the plumage described in most of the records, with damage to wing and tail feathers, raised questions about the origin of the bird(s). Expert opinion was sought from Dick Forsman who stated that the plumage was abnormally abraded, particularly for a bird in its first spring, when such birds are usually in good condition;

ii) the arrival date in Ireland, 5 March, the first of the multiple records, was a month earlier than any other extralimital European record. In addition, the first few spring migrants at Gibraltar appear there only in early March with the main arrival being much later;

iii) its arrival in Ireland would have involved a long sea crossing and this species typically undertakes long detours during migration to avoid making long sea crossings;

iv) the individual bird involved in the majority of records (identified through feather damage) stayed in Britain and Ireland for more than one year, which contrasts with the short stays of most other vagrant birds of prey. In addition, the vast majority of European Booted Eagles spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa; and

v) the species is rare, but not unknown, in captivity, although there is no official register of captive birds in Britain. Information received from the RSPB Investigations Department included details of a pale morph Booted Eagle (which they were previously unaware of) in an aviary in Wales in the course of their work, and reports were received of captive birds in a collection in Essex. There was also a description received of a possible dark morph bird with jesses in Kent.

In the absence of photographic evidence, the three Kent records and the single Orkney record could not be proved to be different birds from the long-staying feather-damaged bird. However, there have been no other reports of Booted Eagle in Britain and Ireland before or since, and the timing of sightings accord with a single individual. Their categorisation was influenced by the factors which led to the decision by all three committees to place the species in Category D.

Table 1. Reports of Booted Eagle in Britain and Ireland during 1999 and 2000. Prepared by IRBC

Note: the details in this table are derived from records that were formally submitted to the three committees as well as information supplied to the various bird news information services in the UK and Ireland. It is possible, therefore, that it omits a (hopefully small) number of other reports. It is very unlikely that any such reports would substantively affect the picture presented here. All three committees would be very interested in receiving details of any other reports not included here.

5/6 March 1999, Rogerstown Dublin
14 March 1999, Dungarvan Waterford
21 March 1999, Broadway Wexford
5 April 1999, Killinick Wexford
9 April 1999, Bangor Down
16-18 April 1999, Lady's Island Wexford
11-17 June 1999, Rogerstown Dublin
Early July 1999, Lambay Island Dublin
22-24 August 1999, Rathlin Island Antrim
28 September 1999, St Margaret's Bay Kent
25 October 1999, Drift Reservoir Cornwall
26 October 1999, Porthgwarra Cornwall
31 October 1999, Drift Reservoir Cornwall
1-12 November 1999, Drift-Marazion area Cornwall
21-28 November 1999, Marazion-Plain an Gwarry area Cornwall
2-9 February 2000, Meare/Westley Heath Somerset
11-15 February 2000, Chew Valley Lake Somerset
19 February 2000, Weston-super-Mare Somerset
25 February 2000, Cheddar Gorge Somerset
27 February 2000, Bristol Somerset
28 February 2000, "North Devon" Devon
1-5 March 2000, "Somerset" Somerset
12 March 2000, Prawle Point Devon
13 March 2000, South Brent Devon
7 April 2000, Dungeness Kent
8 April 2000, Cliffe Pools Kent
8 April 2000, Flew across Thames Estuary Essex
22 June 2000, North Ronaldsay Orkney

For further information, please contact:

Tony Marr, Chairman, BOURC Tel 01 263 741 313 Email

Tim Melling, Secretary, BOURC Tel 01 484 861 148 Email

Steve Dudley, BOU Administrator Tel 01 733 390 932 Email

Paul Milne, Secretary, IRBC Email

Gordon Gordon, Secretary, NIBARC Email


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