UK rewilding of white-tailed eagles will lead to predation on cats?

The UK government has some great animal welfare and conservation plans which I have written about. One is the rewilding of the UK with the wildcat, the lynx and the white-tailed eagle to cite three animals. There are fears, however, that eagles will kill lambs, piglets and cats. You could also add small dogs. And in the UK, there are a large number of domestic cats allowed to wander outside without supervision.

White-tailed eagle

White-tailed eagle. Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay


But how many domestic cats would be killed by eagles? We have to be realistic. Although I agree that rewilding can be controversial because farmers will be concerned, I would like to address the issue of domestic cats being preyed upon by eagles. I’m told that in the UK today there are an estimated 152 pairs of sea eagles and in 2019 licences were given for the release of 60 over five years on the south coast of England. That would be a welcome return after 240 years. The first issue then is that the numbers of eagles will be small. There are around 10 million domestic cats in the UK.

The second point concerns the type of prey animal that the eagle feels able to attack successfully. My research indicates that a female golden eagle struggles to carry prey much over 2 kg (4.4 pounds). For the golden eagle, studies have shown that they have an estimated mean prey weight of 3.56 pounds. Only 15.8% of prey animals weigh over 8.8 pounds. Although, to be fair, the eagle’s diet is skewed towards mammals with about 84% of prey items being mammalian.

The average domestic cat probably weighs around 10 pounds but many are much larger partly because there is an obesity epidemic in both America and the UK! But the obvious point is that the adult domestic cat is at or beyond the weight range upper limit of the prey animals of the golden eagle and I will presume that the white-tailed eagle has similar limitations.

White-tailed eagles will naturally prefer prey animals that are easy to capture and they will scavenge when possible. Studies show that their mean prey size varies between 1.274 pounds (in Poland) to 3.8 pounds (in Russia). The mean prey size of the white-tailed eagle is slightly below that of the golden eagle “which globally averages about 3-3.6 pounds.”

The weights of eagle prey animals are well below that of the domestic cat. Clearly a kitten outside would be vulnerable but because of the small numbers of white-tailed eagles the risk would be slight especially bearing in mind that you don’t normally see kittens wandering around outside.

The conclusion has to be that there would be some risk to domestic cats in the south of the UK to an attack by a white-tailed eagle but that risk would be very, very low. There are far more serious risks such as road traffic or an attack by a dog. I think, therefore, we must keep things in perspective and we can’t argue that the rewilding of white-tailed eagles would be a concern to cat owners in the UK.

And if it does concern some people then they can keep their cats indoors which is something that a lot of people have been in favour of for many years. There are still too many domestic cats wandering around in urban environments at risk of being hit by vehicles.


Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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