“Soaring, scaling, stretching fingers of feathers towards the sun… It was like Icarus finally got his recipe right.”

Golden eagles are giants of Scottish skies, in every sense of the word.

Moody and majestic - gliding over cliffs and moor and back again like they own the place.

And to be fair, they do. 

The Outer Hebrides are one of the best places in Europe, if not the world, to see these magnificent creatures. 

We’ll get to why, but first, let’s fly through some golden eagle facts.

Golden eagle facts

UK population: around 500 breeding pairs

Average lifespan: 23 years

Average wingspan: 2.2 metres

Averege weight: 3.7 kg (m), 5.3 kg (f).

Top speed: 150 mph +

Diet: carrion, grouse, rabbit, ptarmigan, short eared owls, deer calves and some seabirds.

Golden eagles in the Outer Hebrides

Hunted to extinction elsewhere in the British Isles, golden eagles have ‘amber’ conservation status due to their low numbers nationally. 

Scotland is home to all of the UK’s golden eagles -  a respectable 500 breeding pairs, 90 of which call the Outer Hebrides home.

The rugged, expansive terrain, lack of competitor predators like foxes, and low levels of persecution mean the islands are idyllic for golden eagles.

And the protection they enjoy under Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 means the steady rise in their population should continue.

Golden eagles can be encountered anywhere on the islands, but your best bets for a sighting are the North Harris Eagle Observatory, Bogha Glas in Harris, Langass, Reuval, Loch Sgioport and Loch Druidibeg in Uist, Craigston on Barra and Aline Woodland, Ravenspoint and Loch Stiapabhat in Lionel, Lewis.

Golden eagles come to life on bright, breezy days in late winter and early spring as they prepare for the breeding season. It’s during this time they perform their famed acrobatic flights, plunging and rising 100 meters or more into the air, yo-yoing across the sky to try and attract a mate.

But don’t take our word for it. Take the words of one lucky visitor below, and add golden eagle spotting to your holiday itinerary ASAP.

Eagle, eyed

“It was late afternoon on the last day of our Outer Hebridean holiday.

We were driving back from the beach, just through Direcliet, when it happened. 

The day’s last rays fanned across the moor, the ground all silvers, browns and golds. 

Suddenly, it seemed like a whole section of it just lifted up. Took shape and took flight. A huge, winged wonder whooshed out above us. 

Soaring, scaling, stretching fingers of feathers towards the sun, momentarily blocking it out. It was like Icarus finally got his recipe right. 

Then descent and disappearance, gone almost as quickly as it’d swooped into view.

A golden eagle. 

We drove the 5 minutes home in stunned silence, rushing through the door to scan out the window in vain hope of one more glimpse.

We knew it was futile, but by the sill we stayed, long after the light had departed. 

Silent. 

Reverent.”

Related

Bird of Prey Trail - Loch Stiapabhat
Bird of Prey Trail
White-tailed Sea Eagle © Laurie Campbell

Located at the North of the Archipelago, this rich Machair loch and surrounding wetland is an important migration stopover for wildfowl and waders attracting regular visits from hunting bird of prey, especially during the spring and autumn migration.

Bird of Prey Trail - North Harris Eagle Observatory
Bird of Prey Trail
Common Buzzard © Laurie Campbell

The observatory is a purpose built hide perched in the interior of the rugged North Harris hills commanding spectacular views over the territory of a pair of golden eagles.

Bird of Prey Trail - Craigston
Bird of Prey Trail
Common Buzzard © Laurie Campbell

A path leads into the interior of Barra with views over Heaval, the islands highest peak. Scan the ridges for golden eagles and white-tailed eagle and keep an eye out for melin darting across the moor

Bird of Prey Trail - Aline Community Woodland
Bird of Prey Trail
Golden Eagle © Laurie Campbell

A path takes you to the shore of Loch Seaforth, a long fjord-like loch and a stronghold for the white-tailed eagles and otters.

Bird of Prey Trail - Ravenspoint
Bird of Prey Trail
Golden Eagle © Laurie Campbell

This visitor centre, hostel and cafe have good views over the shore of loch Erisort, a sea loch regularly visited by white-tailed eagles. This is also an excellent place from which to explore the remote Pairc peninsula.

Bird of Prey Trail - Loch Sgioport
Bird of Prey Trail
Golden Eagle © Laurie Campbell

Located in the northern end of South Uist, Loch Sgioport is a great placee to spot white-tailed eagles.

Bird of Prey Trail - Bogha Glas
Bird of Prey Trail
Common Buzzard © Laurie Campbell

A path leads you into the North Harris hills; one of the largest areas of un-roaded land is Scotland. One of the most reliable places for locating both golden and white-tailed eagles and where the two eagle species are often seen together.

Bird of Prey Trail - Loch Druidibeg
Bird of Prey Trail
Hen Harrier © Laurie Campbell

This location is on the shore of a large fresh water loch surrounded by moorland with views south over Beinn Mhor, the highest peak in the Uists. Both species of eagle, hen harrier, merlin and short-eared owl are regularly seen here.

Bird of Prey Trail - Sound of Harris Ferry
Bird of Prey Trail
White-tailed Sea Eagle © Laurie Campbell

The Sound of Harris ferry runs between Berneray and Leverburgh. The route meanders round skerries and rocks and is a haven for wildlife. White-tailed eagles are a particularly common sight around these waters.

Bird of Prey Trail - Committee Road
Bird of Prey Trail
Hen Harrier © Laurie Campbell

Surrounded by rolling moorland and young plantations this is a hotspot for hen harriers and short-eared owls. The roadside car park is an excellent vantage point from which to watch.

Bird of Prey Trail - Rueval
Bird of Prey Trail
Hen Harrier © Lauries Campbell

A path runs across Benbecula, through an area of low lying moorland and lochs. This is an excellent area for hen harrier, short-eared owl and merlin during the breeding season.