Wedge-tailed eagleScientific Name Aquila audax                  

Conservation Status Least Concern

Appearance

Wedge-tailed eagles are Australia’s largest birds of prey. Their body measures 1-1.2m (39-47.2in) in length. They have the largest verified wingspan of any eagle at 3.1m (10ft 3in). On average a male will weigh 2-4kg (4.5-9lb) while the larger female averages 3.1-5.3kg (7-11.5lb).

The feathers of a wedge-tailed eagle are coloured a blackish-brown colour. On the underside of the wings, the shoulders and the hind-neck are reddish brown patches. The cere at the top of the bill is creamy white as are the feet. They are the only eagle with wedge shaped tail which is where their name comes from.

Lifespan                                                                                  

In the wild an average wedge-tailed eagle would live for 20-25 years whereas in captivity they are able to reach 40 years of age.

Diet

Wedge tailed eagles are carnivores. Most of their diet is now European rabbits which are an introduced species. In the past their focus would have been wombats, bandicoots, possums and bilbies but these animals are now rare. These animals also hunt lizards, birds and if in a group they have been known to take down a wallaby or kangaroo. Other introduced species in their diet include foxes, sick or weak lambs and goats, dogs and cats.

These animals also scavenge for carrion. They will often steal food from ravens and up to 12 birds may be seen gathered around a large carcass.

They hunt mostly from the air looking for prey on the ground and then swooping down to attack it. In some cases they have been documenting pulling possums from tree hollows and taking chicks from nests.

Habitat

Australia and Papua New Guinea are the native homes of the Wedge-tailed eagle. It can be found across most of mainland Australia as well as Tasmania and a number of offshore islands including Flinders, Maria and Kangaroo.

Here they can be found in lightly timbered woodlands; Trans fly savannas, dense forest, mountainous regions and grasslands.

Reproduction

Breeding occurs from June to August. Wedge-tailed eagles will form monogamous pairs which will never separate. It is also uncommon for one partner to seek a new mate when the other dies.

When pairs first meet they will form a pair by performing a series of short dives, touching talons and making a whistle as they pull up from their dives. A pair will defend their territory during the breeding season, perch close together and preen each other.

A nest is made in a tree between 1 and 30m off the ground. In areas where they cannot find a suitable tree they use a cliff edge or even make it on the ground. It is made from sticks and lined with green leaves and twigs. The nest can measure 2.5m (8.2ft) across and 4m (13ft) deep. This nest is used for many years in a row with some having been used for 50 consecutive years.

The female deposits one to three eggs into this nest. They are laid over a period of 2 to 4 days. These eggs are incubated by both parents for 42-45 days. The eggs do not hatch at the same time and in years where there is little food the first chick who is already strong by the time the second hatches may kill its nest mate. Chicks are covered in downy white fathers.

For the first 30 days the male will do all the hunting while the female keeps the chicks warm. After this she will join him to go hunting.

75 to 95 days after hatching the chicks will be ready to fledge. They are dependent on their parents for food for another 3 to 6 months though. While they are immature these animals are more of a golden brown colour.

Wedge-tailed eagleSexual maturity is reached at 3 years old but often it is not until six years old when they have adult plumage that they will first mate.

Behavior                                                                                                                

The wedge-tailed eagle is a solitary animal until they pair up with a mate.

Most of their day is spent high in the air circling their territory looking for food or reinforcing their ownership of that territory. When not flying they will perch in a tree.

No predator is capable of taking down an adult wedge-tailed eagle. Their nest may be raided by species such as goannas. These can take eggs, hatchlings and nestlings.

They have a weak call which is a double syllable note. They use different calls for greeting, alarm, territoriality and while mating.

Quick facts

Wedge tailed eagles are the state emblem of the Australian states: the Northern Territory and New South Wales. It is also the mascot of the Australian rules football team, The West Coast Eagles.

These birds have been known to attack hang-gliders and paragliders that enter their territory.

Wedge-tailed eagles are also referred to as eaglehawks.

Photo Credits:

Top By James Niland (Flickr: Wedge-tailed Eagle) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom By Francesco Veronesi from Italy (Wedge-tailed Eagle – Australia 01) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons