High tech tags to give insight into lives of golden eagles in Cairngorms National Park

Three golden eagle chicks in the Cairngorms National Park have been successfully tagged using the latest innovative technology.

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 10:37 am
A golden eagle chick being fitted with a ‘Celltrack’ tag (Credit Dr Ewan Weston)

Three estates in the Cairngorms National Park are part of this latest raptor tagging initiative, a partnership project that has been developed and funded by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.

The ‘Celltrack’ tags being used have come from the USA and are among the leading technology in raptor tagging. They will provide a better understanding of the species’ movements, habitat preferences and mortality.

The birds’ movements are tracked in real-time by CNPA staff and partners with transmissions coming in daily, providing a multitude of data that can help better understand the life of juvenile golden eagles, with an inbuilt alert system should mortality occur, whether through natural causes, persecution or other anthropogenic influences. The tags have the ability to detect unusual behaviour and send alerts with accurate locations.

‘Celltrack’ tags make use of an innovative dual communication system with data being sent over the mobile phone network as well as through a network of satellites. By using this hybrid communication system, the large quantity of location fixes acquired each day can be transmitted over the mobile phone network, with the additional security of satellite communications when birds are out of signal.

Dr Ewan Weston, an independent research ecologist, has been in charge of tagging the golden eagle chicks under licence.

He said: “Having been involved in fitting tags to eagles for 14 years, the technological advances in the tags we use now bring data that was previously unimaginable. The data we receive, feeds into wider research on the species and covers aspects of golden eagle biology and environment, providing an insight into aspects of their lives in incredible detail. This work has included aspects of their dispersal behaviour, interaction with the landscape and developments such as wind farms.”

Dr Pete Mayhew, Director of Nature and Climate Change at the CNPA said: “The more we know about golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park – from fledging through to acquiring their own territories – the better we can conserve and enhance their populations for the future. This is another excellent conservation partnership project involving government bodies and private estates who all wish to see a healthy future for our raptor species.”

The CNPA set out plans for a golden eagle tagging project in 2019, which included the use of British Trust for Ornithology-provided tags; however, delays in production, technical issues and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the project switch to using ‘Celltrack’ tags. However, partners will continue to work closely with BTO over the coming months, including sharing data from the three recently tagged golden eagle chicks.

Andy Turner, NatureScot Wildlife Crime officer, added: “NatureScot are providing strong support to the CNPA on this project. This innovative technological development will strengthen our understanding of golden eagle movements, aiding both research and hopefully acting as a deterrent to illegal persecution. The ability for instant alerts and complex motion data will provide welcome new insights into the movements of these special birds. If this is successful, I hope we can deploy this technology more widely.”

Licenses to tag Golden Eagles are granted on behalf of NatureScot by the British Trust for Ornithology who look at various criteria, especially animal welfare.