Saturday, September 19, 2015

Eagles’ Nests - Ingenious Device of an Eagle - Article XII - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood – Part B

Article XII written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 19 February 1880 – Part B

“Eagles were very plentiful. Their place of breeding was Berriedale head, in the highest and most inaccessible point of the rock, and placed in such a position that it could neither be reached from sea nor land. The only way it could be got at was by attaching a firebrand to the end of a long line, and dropping it down till it reached the monster nest, which was composed of turf heather stobs, and other materials, amounting to the bulk of a cart-load. If this plan succeeded the firebrand set the whole in a blaze, and roasted the poor young eaglets, or the eggs as the case might be.”

eagle Eagle_and_Lamb_-_James_Audubon
“Many a good fright I have got, when out in the hills herding the towns cattle, alone, when a great big eagle would drop down within a few yards of where I stood, and did not seem to be the least put out by my presence. I did not like his company I can assure you. I had heard so many wild stories of children picked up and carried away by these monarchs of the feathered tribes, that I feared every eagle I saw was on a mission to carry me away "holis-bolis" and lay me down at the edge of his nest to be devoured by his young family.”

Rescued_from_an_eagle's_nest_still Robbing the Eagles Nest by McIan
From ‘Rescued from an Eagle's Nest'. Source: See below 'Robbing the Eagle’s Nest' by McIan

“These birds were possessed of a wonderful instinct, as the following story will show. I may state here that I had it from a very near and dear friend of mine, whose veracity I never had occasion to challenge, or doubt." 

"In the month of April, which is the lambing season, a ewe had newly dropped a lamb, when an eagle put in an appearance, and made an attempt to make the lamb his own, but the mother defended her offspring resolutely, and baffled every attempt of the enemy. All at once his eagleship flew away to the face of a red gravelly "scaur" on the side of a ravine, not far distant, where he alighted, and rolled himself in the gravel, after which he rose, and flew towards the sheep, never moving a wing till he alighted on the back of the sheep, when he clapped his wings around the head of the unsuspecting animal. He then flew up, sprang on the lamb, and carried it away in triumph. This he effected by blinding the mother with the gravel he carried in his feathers, as was evident from the manner in which the ewe acted. She butted vaguely in every direction, as if trying to defend her lamb, which, in a few minutes was devoured in the eagles nest.”

040 (2) The eagles nest
Dead lamb dropped on the lintel at Rumsdale The Eagles' nest

My Comments:

  • The killing of eagles & other birds of prey, long practiced, began in earnest in Scotland in late 18th and early 19th centuries with the expansion of sheep farming and the popularity of grouse hunting. They were considered ‘vermin.’ Seen as a threat to the survival of sheep farming, shepherds were encouraged by landowners to eradicate birds of prey. Nest destruction, as described by Alexander Gunn, was obviously one way of eagle control in his area and robbing nests of eggs, as depicted by McIan, was another.
  • By the early 20th century several species, including the white-tailed eagle, had become extinct in Scotland, while other species suffered severe consequences.
  • In recent decades there have been several recovery and re-introduction programmes for eagles and other birds of prey. They are also now afforded legal protection. However, persecution of these birds still continues especially in areas that are prized for grouse hunting.
  • The blog at has an interesting article showing the consequences of an eagle attack for one lamb and ewe, and their owner, who is learning to live with lambs lost to birds of prey.
  • Poor Alexander Gunn as a young shepherd was frightened of eagles, both because they were plentiful and also as he was minding the sheep on his own. He admits the stories of eagles carrying away children are ‘wild’ but there are plenty of web photos, and videos on YouTube, demonstrating the frightening size and strength of an eagle and the ingenious methods they can use to get their food.
  • The picture above of the child getting carried away is a Film still from Rescued from an Eagle's Nest, an American short silent film produced by J. Searle Dawley in 1908.

article-1361000-0D5D039E000005DC-275_634x689 Sheep skeleton
Source: Sheep remains

stamp.php Badbea Cheviot ewes & lambs on top side of wall 2
On the coastal track near Berriedale Ewes and lambs at Badbea

19 2 1880 NE (Article XII) part a copy 2

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