Wedge-tailed Eagle

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Image:WedgeTailedEagle.jpg

Common Name: Wedge-tailed Eagle
Scientific Name: Aquila audax

Size: 32-42 inches (81-106 cm); Wingspan: 72-91 inches (182-232 cm)

Habitat: Oceania; found throughout mainland Australia, Tasmania and southern New Guinea.

It is found from sea level to alpine regions in the mountains, but prefers wooded and forested land and open country, generally avoiding rainforest and coastal heath vegetation. Eagles can be seen perched on trees or poles or soaring overhead to altitudes of up to 2000 m.

Status: Least Concern to Endangered. Global population: Unknown adult individuals with an increasing population trend. The population is increasing owing to introduction of rabbits and deforestation. However it is still persecuted in parts of its range through shooting, trapping and poisoning using poisoned carcasses. The subspecies from Tasmania (A. a. fleayi) is listed as endangered by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) with fewer than 200 pairs left in the wild. The eagle was once subject to a bounty in Tasmania, as it was believed to prey on livestock.

Decreasing numbers of Tasmanian devils may be beneficial to the wedge-tailed eagles in Tasmania, as it could reduce competition for road kill and devil predation on wedge-tailed eagle young.

Diet: Mammals; the introduced rabbit and brown hare have become the primary items of the eagle's diet in many areas. Larger introduced mammals such as foxes and feral cats are also occasionally taken, while native animals such as wallabies, small kangaroos, possums, koalas and bandicoots are also preyed on. In some areas, birds such as cockatoos, ducks, crows, ibis, and even emu are more frequent prey items. Reptiles are less frequently taken, however frill-necked lizards, goannas and brown snakes are occasionally preyed on.

Most prey is captured on the ground in gliding attacks or less frequently in the air. It spends much of the day perching in trees or on rocks or similar exposed lookout sites such as cliffs from which it has a good view of its surroundings.

They 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.

Nesting: Females are larger and slightly paler than males. Young eagles are a mid-brown color with slightly lighter and reddish-brown wings and head. As they grow older, their color becomes darker, reaching a dark blackish-brown shade after about ten years.

As the breeding season approaches, a pair of wedge-tailed eagles will perch close to each other and preen one another. They also perform dramatic aerobatic display flights together over their territory. Sometimes the male dives down at breakneck speed towards his partner. As he pulls out of his dive and rises just above her on outstretched wings, she either ignores him or turns over to fly upside down, stretching out her talons. The pair may then perform a loop-the-loop.

Wedge-tailed Eagles build their nest in a prominent location with a good view of the surrounding countryside. It may be built in either a living or dead tree, but usually the tallest one in the territory. In some parts of Australia, where tall trees are absent, small trees, shrubs, cliff faces or even the ground may be used. The density of active nests depends on the abundance of prey and other resources. In most years, nests are usually 2.5 km - 4 km apart. If conditions are particularly good, the distances apart may be less than 1 km because the birds require smaller areas to find sufficient food.

If using an existing nest, both birds will either rebuild the nest or add new sticks and leaf lining to an old nest. Nests can be 2–5 meters deep and 2–5 meters wide. The female usually lays two eggs, which are incubated by both sexes. A clutch consists of white eggs measuring 73 mm x 59 mm with varying amounts of reddish brown spots and blotches. These are laid at intervals of two to four days. Incubation starts with the laying of the first egg. Because of the intervals between laying, the eggs do not hatch simultaneously. The first chick hatches larger than the second, which in turn is larger than the third. Survival rates of the chicks vary considerably depending on local conditions, including prey abundance and the amount of disturbance. A breeding pair usually rears only one young per clutch, although in a good year, two chicks may fledge in some nests. Because of the differences in size, the oldest and largest chick has the best chance of surviving. If food is scarce, it will kill and eat its smaller nest mates

After about 45 days, the chicks hatch. At first, the male does all the hunting. When the chicks are about 30 days old, the female stops brooding them and joins her mate to hunt for food.

The young wedge-tailed eagles depend on their parents for food for up to six months after hatching. They leave only when the next breeding season approaches.

The eagle patrols the boundary of this home range and advertises its ownership with high-altitude soaring and gliding flights. It may defend its territory by diving on intruders. Adults are avian apex predators and have no natural predators but must defend their eggs and nestlings against nest predators such as corvids, currawongs, or other wedge-tailed eagles and in Tasmania there is often conflict with the white-bellied sea eagle over nest sites.

Cool Facts: The wedge-tailed eagle is the largest bird of prey in Australia. It is sometimes known as the “eaglehawk”. Both names are misnomers, as it is not a hawk, and its tail is shaped more like a diamond. This eagle is also referred to as the "great" or "giant wedgie."

Their keen eyesight extends into the infrared and ultraviolet bands. This helps them spot prey and allows them to see rising thermals, which they can use to gain altitude while expending little energy. The wedge-tailed eagle is the only bird that has a reputation for attacking hang gliders and paragliders (presumably defending its territory). There are recorded cases of the birds damaging the fabric of these gliders with their talons.

The Wedge-tailed Eagle has become emblematic throughout Australia. Parks and Wildlife Service Northern Territory use the wedge-tailed eagle, superimposed over a map of the Northern Territory, as their emblem. The New South Wales Police Force emblem contains a wedge-tailed eagle in flight, as does the Northern Territory Correctional Services. La Trobe University in Melbourne also uses the wedge-tailed eagle in its corporate logo and coat of arms. The Royal Australian Air Force and Australian Air Force Cadets Use the Wedge-Tailed on their badge. Early in 1967, the Australian Army 2nd Cavalry Regiment received its new badge, a wedge tailed eagle swooping, carrying a lance bearing the motto "Courage" in its talons. The regiment's mascot is a Wedge-tailed Eagle named "Courage". The West Coast Eagles AFL football club uses a wedge-tailed eagle as their club mascot.


This 3D model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume IV: Eagles of the World

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