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Haliaeetus leucogaster

Description

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle has white on the head, rump and underparts and dark grey on the back and wings. In flight the black flight feathers on the wings are easily seen when the bird is viewed from below. The large, hooked bill is grey with a darker tip, and the eye is dark brown. The legs and feet are cream-white, with long black talons (claws). The sexes are similar. Males (around 75cm in height) are slightly smaller than females (up to 85cm). The wingspan is about 2m. Young Sea-Eagles are brown as juveniles than slowly become to resemble adults in a patchwork manner, acquiring the complete adult plumage by their fourth year.

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is the second largest bird of prey found in Australia. The largest is the Wedge-tailed Eagle, Aquila audax, which stands up to 1m. The Wedge-tailed eagle is mostly brown, with a wedge-shaped tail.

Young Sea-Eagles may be confused with the Wedge-tailed Eagle, but differ in having a paler head and tail and more steeply upswept wings when soaring.

Distribution and Habitat

White-bellied Sea-Eagles are a common sight in coastal and near coastal areas of Australia. Birds form permanent pairs that inhabit territories throughout the year. Their loud "goose-like" honking call is a familiar sound, particularly during the breeding season. Birds are normally seen, perched high in a tree, or soaring over waterways and adjacent land. You will often hear the commotion of other birds objecting to its presence alerting you to the fact that a raptor is present.

Food and Feeding

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle feeds mainly off aquatic animals, such as fish, turtles and eels, but it takes birds and mammals as well. It is a skilled hunter, and will attack prey up to the size of a swan. Sea-Eagles also feed on carrion (dead prey) such as sheep and fish along the waterline. They harass smaller birds, forcing them to drop any food that they are carrying. Sea-Eagles feed alone, in pairs or in family groups.

Residents of our locality will often observe a pair of Sea- Eagles hunting on the edge of the Tamar river at dusk. At writing, I saw them today without observing any success in their efforts to obtain a meal.

 Breeding

White-bellied Sea-Eagles build a large stick nest, which is used for many seasons in succession. The nest can be located in a tree up to 30m above the ground, but may be also be placed on the ground or on rocks, where there are no suitable trees. At the start of the breeding season (May to October), the nest is lined with fresh green leaves and twigs. The female carries out most of the incubation of the two white eggs, but the male performs this duty from time to time. There is a nest currently in the Swan Bay locality and another in Spring Bay. (Tamar Valley Tasmania)