Wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax)

Wedge-tailed eagles are one of our most iconic, well known and least understood birds. With a wing span of up to 2.5 metres they are one of the world’s largest eagles.

A pair of Wedge-tailed eagles, the slightly larger female on the left

Found throughout the mainland and eastern Tasmania they are easily identified from other birds of prey by their distinctive diamond shaped tale when soaring. In the early morning they are often seen perched on dead trees, telegraph poles and other vantage points warming in the sun. As the day warms up they ride thermals in a circular pattern rising to over two kilometres above the ground.

Wedge-tailed eagle soaring – showing its distinctive diamond shaped tale

They breed from winter to summer, and can lay up to three eggs in a large stick nest that can be used for decades. The breeding pair will remain resident in their territory but the immature birds will be forced out, and individuals can relocate to many hundreds of kilometres away in order to establish their own territory. Female Wedge-tailed eagles are slightly larger than the males.

Wedge-tailed eagles prefer small vertebrates to feed on, including rabbits, wallabies and feral cats. They will kill some birds on the wing, especially cockatoos, and do scavenge regularly on road kill. Their fearsome appearance belies the fact they are actually a timid bird, and are difficult to approach in the wild. They are regularly swooped and chased by other much smaller birds. For a long time they had an unfair reputation for killing lambs which resulted in the wholesale slaughter of thousands of these birds. However we now know their role as an apex predator is far more beneficial to both the environment and graziers, than the loss caused, by what is in actuality, a very small number of lambs that they take.

For some videos of the wonderful birds in action have a look at my blog or the Bird Bites Facebook and Youtube channels.

This article first appeared in the High Country Herald 31st of October 2023