A Wedgie You Will Never Forget
Going on a drive through the countryside can be a great way to see native animals. The Wedgie will be easy to spot right now as it performs some impressive aeronautical displays while showing off to their mates.
Some people describe the Wedgie as ‘lanky’ and ‘gangly’ because of its long, dangling legs and scruffy feathers. Yet once a Wedge-tailed Eagle takes off into the sky, soaring high in the thermals, it is transformed into a graceful bird of prey.
The Wedge-tailed Eagle is the largest bird of prey in Australia. On first impressions the Wedgie can seem sinister, with its dark feathers, hooked beak and distinctive call, but this guy is actually a loving parent and partner.
This handsome eagle chooses to mate for life and dedicates itself to bring up the family. For the next few months you are likely to see mum and dad Wedge-tailed Eagle spiralling and circling around each other in their courtship ritual. Mum and dad will share nest building and child-rearing duties.
They build big 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. The kids will then stay with mum and dad for 11 weeks until they’re confident enough to make it on their own. Here is mum feeding her chicks.
Unlike many other bird species, the Wedge-tailed Eagle girls are bigger than the boys. They both share the hunting duties and together they will patrol the border of their territory. While they can be very territorial, Wedgies often work together in large groups to bring down kangaroos and foxes and they will then take turns feeding.
Wedgies mainly eat rabbits, wallabies and small kangaroos. In some parts of Australia they also go after goannas, frilled neck lizards and even birds such as galahs and ducks.
Wedgies usually hunt in the morning, which leaves the afternoon free for patrolling, building a nest or preening each other.
Farmers used to think the Wedge-tailed Eagle would go after livestock such as sheep. While they can be seen eating dead sheep, they very rarely attack them, instead eating those that have already deceased.
Unfortunately farmers who believed these beautiful birds were after their sheep, used to hunt them. This led to the Tasmanian Wedgies nearly going the way of the extinct Tassie Tiger. Luckily the government has now banned the hunting of the Wedgies in all states and territories, making life a little safer for them.
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 not letting the animals go to waste, recycling nutrients, and cleaning up our countryside.
Not all animals are happy when they see a Wedgie. When a magpie, crow or miner bird spots a Wedge-tailed Eagle all hell breaks loose as these smaller birds rally together to chase the eagle off.
Wedge-tailed Eagles not only clean up messy road kill for us, they also help to keep feral animals numbers down such as rabbits and foxes. These sky giants are nothing to be scared of so just relax and enjoy their autumn flying shows.
The Wedge-tailed Eagle has the largest wingspan (over 2 metres) of any other 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 Wedgies, when the birds feel they’re being invaded.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Because Wedge-tailed Eagles are attracted to their version of takeaway food aka 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 that these guys face is the clearing of trees and therefore potential nesting sites. They are also easily spooked and will desert their nests if they feel threatened, so make sure not to disturb a Wedgies nest if you come across one.