White-tailed eagle released in wild ‘poisoned with illegal pesticide’

Bird brought as chick from Norway in 2021 released as part of eagle reintroduction programme

A white-tailed eagle released into the wild in a bid to reintroduce the breed to the Republic was fatally poisoned with an illegal pesticide, an inquiry into his death has found. The healthy juvenile male had been brought to Ireland as a chick in 2021 from Norway but was found dead last November, having ingested poison that was being used illegally as so-called pest control.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is seeking any information relating to the eagle, which was found dead on lands between Lough Ramar, Co Cavan and Lough Sheelin, Co Westmeath.

Toxicology tests, carried out at the State Laboratory, have confirmed the animal was poisoned with carbofuran, an “extremely toxic” insecticide. Its use in crop production was withdrawn in Ireland over a decade ago and possession of carbofuran is illegal. While it was unclear how the bird ingested the substance, the NPWS said it was possible he had eaten a dead animal laced with it.

NPWS regional manager, Maurice Eakin, said white-tailed eagles were a protected species under the Wildlife Acts. The death of the bird last November highlighted “once again” the extent of the illegal practice of using poisonous material as pest control.


“In this instance, it is particularly disturbing that the reckless laying of poison has resulted in the death of a white-tailed eagle, one of our largest and most majestic bird species, which had been persecuted to extinction by the early 1900s,” he said.

The NPWS is particularly interested to hear from anyone who may have seen any people or vehicles “acting suspiciously in recent weeks in the general area between Lough Sheelin and Lough Ramar”.

The NPWS stressed the practice of using poisonous substances “for the control of species such as foxes and crows” was illegal and had been since 2010.

The eagle found dead last November was fitted with a small satellite tag before it was released on Lough Derg, Co Donegal, in 2021. It had spent most of its time around Lough Sheelin and in neighbouring counties. According to the NPWS, it had “settled into its new surroundings” with two other white-tailed eagles; a 2020 female released on Lough Derg and a male released in Killarney National Park.

All three birds had mostly been staying on the Westmeath lakes since last April until the satellite tag on the dead bird revealed it had not moved for some time, leading to the discovery of its remains.

“A local NPWS ranger collected the birds body on agricultural land in Cavan, and following the RAPTOR Protocol, a range of tests were carried out by staff of the Dublin Regional Veterinary Laboratory of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at Backweston,” explained the NPWS in a statement.

“These immediately ruled out Avian Influenza, illegal shooting or trauma. Subsequent toxicology tests conducted by the State Laboratory, have confirmed it had been poisoned with an illegal substance, known as Carbofuran.  It is not known how the eagle ingested this substance, but possibly from eating carrion (a dead animal) laced with it.

“Carbofuran is a plant protection chemical (i.e. an insecticide) which is extremely toxic, particularly to birds.  Studies in the United States in the 1990s showed a single granule alone, resembling a natural seed grain in size and shape, could kill a bird. Its approval for use in crop production was withdrawn over a decade ago in Ireland, and possession of carbofuran is illegal. Despite this, carbofuran and other poisons continue to be used to target wildlife in the wider countryside.”

The NPWS said it was hoped the two birds still alive in the Westmeath area would reach the age of five and mate, thus boosting the reintroduction project. When a breeding pair nested in Mountshannon, Co Clare, in 2012, they were the first breeding pair in the Republic for over a century, with thousands of visitors travelling to the area to see them and their two chicks, delivering an economic boost for the region.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times