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White-tailed eagle flocking phenomenon inland

Birdwatchers have been noticing unusually large groups of white-tailed eagles on the large lakes in the Häme region. One watcher says the anomaly is spreading.

Merikotka Vanajavedellä
Eagle of the rain: Haliaeetus albicilla is Finland's largest bird of prey. Image: Petri Hirva

White-tailed eagles are not typical sights over inland waters, so 75 sightings in Pirkanmaa and 23 at Vanajavesi lake count as significant. That's according to long-time birdwatcher Martti Raekunnas.

"A large number of white-tailed eagles gather hereabouts when the migration starts. This year the record is 16 eagles," Raekunnas says. "The eagles are coming to stop for several weeks in the Pirkanmaa region, for longer than before."

The migratory period has also started earlier year on year. This January unusually large numbers were seen, and some 30 white-tailed eagles were seen before the New Year – even though the migration period is usually in February.

Finland's white-tailed eagles saw a population boom starting in the 1970s due to wintertime feeding, leading to the eagles being conditioned into expecting a buffet.

"The feeding project has been stopped but the birds coming here is a kind of consequence of that. The eagles rest here where they've learned there is a lot of food."

White-tailed eagles have made nests in the Vanajavesi lake for several years running. As more eagles join in, more nesting is expected by avian aficionados.

The white-tailed eagle is the largest bird of prey in Finland. Long-term conservation efforts saved the species from extinction in the country. Only four white-tailed eagle eggs hatched in 1975 – last year 468 eagles were born. Some 3,500 white-tailed eagle pairs live in Europe.

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