Golden Boy: England's last golden eagle

A catastrophic drop in numbers has left just one lone member of a magnificent species
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The Independent Online

Swooping over the Lake District, this is Golden Boy, a magnificent 10-year-old golden eagle with a massive 6ft wingspan. He is also the last of his kind.

Famously elusive and enigmatic, Golden Boy was photographed last week hunting for mice, foxes and lambs on thermals above the hills.

At the same time, scientists and ornithologists were debating how to ensure that the bird's death does not mean the end of a creature that has a legendary place in English history.

For centuries, the golden eagle has symbolised power and stealth. Painted on the shields and crests of English armies throughout the ages, it is still the emblem of the RAF.

Despite a healthy population in the 1970s, and 80s the number of English golden eagles, found only in the Lake District, has dwindled fast. Only Golden Boy now remains.

Until recently, he had a 28-year-old female companion who had occupied a remote valley site with him on the 9,500-hectare Haweswater Estate, near Penrith. Sadly, she has since died, shattering hopes that a depleted eagle population could once again flourish there.

RSPB wardens on the estate have recently been witnessing Golden Boy performing spectacular display flights in the hope of attracting another female, but they don't hold much hope of him finding a mate.

David Shackleton, from the RSPB, said: "Although it's not impossible, it is quite unlikely that the introduction of a foreign female would work. We don't like to be too pessimistic, though. There is a small chance that a bird could fly all the way from Scotland, as they once did in the late Fifties."

Golden eagles first bred in the area in 1969, having been present in the Lake District since the late 1950s. The original birds would have found their way from the Dumfries and Galloway regions, where there is said to be around 420 pairs.

The Haweswater eagles have produced 16 young over the years, but since 1996 no young have fledged and no eggs have been laid in four of the last five years.

With the increase in the human population over the years, the birds' natural habitats have declined, but conservationists remain optimistic that this does not have to be the end of an era. David Crawshaw, environment manager for United Utilities, which owns and manages the estate, said: "Everyone will be hoping that a new female will arrive, and if this happens then there is a very good chance that we may once again see successful nesting by these wonderful birds of prey."

King of the skies

* A huge bird of prey - in the UK, only the white-tailed eagle is larger

* Golden eagles soar and glide on air currents, holding their wings in a shallow 'V'

* Maximum lifespan is thought to be 30 years

* Golden eagles mate for life. They build several nests, known as eyries, within their territory

* Nests consist of heavy tree branches, upholstered with grass

* Maximum wingspan is 240cm (95ins)

* Golden eagle pairs share the hunting: one partner drives the prey to its waiting partner

* Prey includes: hares, mice, birds, foxes and sometimes young sheep