The Wedge-tailed Eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey with a wingspan of 2.3 m.
It has a characteristic long, wedge-shaped tail and legs that are feathered all the way to the base of the toes. Feathers cover the lower legs right down to the powerful talons. The bill is pale pink to cream, the eye brown to dark brown, and the feet off-white. When in flight the tail forms a wedge with the narrow part of the wedge close to the body. The female at about 4 kg is slightly larger than the male at a weight of 3 kg. Younger birds are a reddish brown, whereas older birds over 10 years old are a darkish brown. It is found throughout mainland Australia, Tasmania and southern New Guinea. They can soar up to 2000 metres high in search of food.
The Wedge-tailed Eagle stay away from environments dominated by people, it prefers wooded and forested land and open country, generally avoiding rainforest and coastal heaths. It can be seen perched on trees or poles or soaring overhead to altitudes of up to 2000 m. The nest is built in a prominent location in either a live or dead tree; usually the tallest one in the territory with a good view of the surrounding countryside, cliff faces can also be used. Nests have been recorded as large as three metres wide. Male and female share responsibility for rearing chicks. There may be up to three chicks in the nest. Chicks hatch covered with a white down. For the first five weeks or so, the adults must deliver food to their mouths. After this time they are able to recognise bits of food on the floor of the nest and can feed themselves. Juveniles remain with the adults for about 11 weeks after leaving the nest
For years Wedge-tailed Eagles were persecuted by farmers for killing lambs, fact is they kill very few lambs. Rabbits and hares make up between 30 to 70 % of their diet, sometimes more. Carrion is a major food source; road kills and other carcasses are readily eaten.
Image by Alex Wilson
Wedge-tailed Eagles may hunt singly, in pairs or in larger groups. Working together, a group of eagles can attack and kill animals as large as adult kangaroos. This explains the scientific name of the Wedge-tailed Eagle which means 'bold eagle'. Under ideal conditions, an eagle can lift about 50% of its body weight. Often, eagles may cache food items on a branch near the nest area.
As eagles are carrion feeders, they are drawn
to road-kills. If you ever see an eagle feeding on or on the side of the road,
slow down! The eagle is a heavy bird and it is surprising how slow
they are to take flight. Often they fly across the traffic and into
the path of a car.