Backyard Buddies
Wedge-tailed Eagle

Photo: John Spencer - OEH

Wedge-tailed Eagle

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The Wedge-tailed Eagle, Aquila audax, is the largest bird of prey in Australia. It can appear sinister, with its dark feathers, hooked beak and distinctive call, but Wedge-tails are excellent parents and partners.

Wedge-tails mate for life and are extremely attentive parents. Wedge-tailed Eagles spiral and circle around each other in their courtship ritual before sharing nest building and child-rearing duties.

They build very large nests (over a metre wide and 3 metres deep) in the forks of trees where they will lay 1-2 eggs. After 45 days, the eggs start hatching. Usually only one egg is laid but if there are two, generally only the largest and strongest will survive.

Unlike many other bird species, the Wedge-tailed Eagle females are bigger than the males. They both share the hunting duties and together they will patrol the border of their territory. While they can be very territorial, Wedge-tails often work together in large groups to hunt kangaroos and foxes and will then take turns feeding.

They mainly eat rabbits, wallabies and small kangaroos. In some parts of Australia they also hunt goannas, frilled neck lizards and even birds like galahs and ducks.

They usually hunt in the morning and spend the afternoon patrolling their territory, building a nest or preening each other.

Farmers used to think the Wedge-tailed Eagle would attack livestock such as sheep. While they can be seen eating dead sheep, they very rarely attack them, instead eating those that are already deceased.

Unfortunately farmers who believed these birds were after their sheep used to hunt them. This led to the Tasmanian Wedge-tails almost becoming extinct. The government has now banned the hunting of Wedge-tailed Eagles in all states and territories.

The Wedge-tailed Eagle often feeds on animals that have already died such as road kill. They play an important role in our environment by recycling nutrients, and cleaning up our countryside.

Being predators, many birds are threatened by Wedge-tailed Eagles. When smaller birds spot them, they often band together to chase the eagle away.

Wedge-tailed Eagles not only clean up messy road kill, they also help to keep feral animals numbers down.

The Wedge-tailed Eagle has the largest wingspan (over 2 metres) of any eagle in the world. Its wingspan is also unexpected for its size as it is not the heaviest eagle.

Hang gliders and helicopters sometimes come under bombardment from Wedge-tails, when the birds feel they're territory is being invaded.

Because Wedge-tailed Eagles are attracted to road kill, make sure you keep an eye out on country roads and slow down so you don't accidentally hit them.

One of the biggest problems they face is the clearing of trees and potential nesting sites. They are also easily spooked and will desert their nests if they feel threatened, so make sure not to disturb a nest if you come across one.

 

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Photo: OEH