Wedge-tailed Eagle

Aquila audax

Aquila audax

The wedge-tailed eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of up to 2 metres or more.  Males weigh around 3.2 kg, females 4.2 kg.  Its plumage is black, with tawny or cream feathers in places, including a prominent diagonal bank across the inner wing.  It is easy to distinguish the wedge-tail eagle by its unique combination of great size, dark plumage and distinctive, long wedge-shaped or diamond shaped tail.

Breeding

Sexual maturity is reached at 6-7 years.  Adults usually mate for life and remain in their home range all year round.  After a courtship of aerobatic flights and preening together, they commence to build a large stick nest, or add new sticks and leaf lining to an old nest.  The female usually lays 1-3 eggs (whitish with red-brown to purple markings) and they are incubated by both sexes.  Chicks hatch in 42-48 days.  When they are about 30 days old, the female joins the male in hunting for feed.  The young are dependent on their parents up to 6 months, leaving when the next breeding season approaches.

Behaviour

This impressive bird of prey 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.  During the intense heat of the day, it often soars high in the air circling up on the thermal air currents that rise from the baking ground.  Each pair occupies a home range, which may extend from 9 sq. km to 100 sq. km or more.  Most of its hunting is done around sunrise and sunset.  The eagle swoops down in a long, slanting glide to take its prey by surprise, or chases it in powered flight, extending its legs and sinking its powerful talons into the victim’s body.  Frequently the prey is carried to a convenient perch for consumption.  Although it generally hunts alone or in pairs, it has been known to cooperate in a group of up to 15 birds to bring down larger prey, such as kangaroos.

Diet

Mainly feeds on mammals, especially rabbits and hares, and often on the carcases of dead animals.  Included also are wallabies, small kangaroos, goannas and other large lizards and snakes, birds from the size of crimson rosellas or emu chicks to ibises and bustards.  Is able to carry prey weighing up to 5kg.

Status

Critically endangered subspecies.

Birds of PreyLuke