SEA eagles have been caught eating more lambs than fish after a motion sensor camera was planted next to a nest.
Nearly 7,000 covert images were taken of the nest in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland during the 2014 breeding season.
Despite their name, the sea eagles were found to have taken around nine lambs home to feast on – while only seven fish were brought back to the nest.
The research appears to back crofters’ and farmers’ concerns about the recent reintroduction of Britain’s largest bird of prey.
Scottish sea eagles were persecuted to extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1975 a reintroduction programme got underway on Rum and now there are thought to be more than 80 breeding pairs of white-tailed sea eagles in the west.
For years there has been disagreement about the true extent to which the eagles prey on lambs.
In 2008 crofters on the Gairloch peninsula claimed 200 lambs were taken by the raptors in just one season.
But conservationists have insisted sea eagle preying in lambs in a rare occurrence.
The hidden cameras were disguised under a piece of pre-prepared bark and rubbed with mud.
The thousands of photographs showed the sea eagles brought 117 prey items back to the nest between January and July.
Analysis confirmed that 67 items were unidentifiable, 21 were mammals, 14 were birds, 7 were fish, and either 8 or 9 were lambs.
The findings were revealed at the first meeting of the sea eagle stakeholder group set up after repeated complaints about eagles from crofters.
Lachie Maclean, interim chair of the stakeholder group, said: “This is a useful piece of research which will help feed into the wider discussions about managing sea eagles in our area.
“The survey gives us a better idea of when lambs are more likely to be part of sea eagles’ diets.”