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Eagles & Hawks

Wedge-tailed Eagle

Wedge-tailed Eagle

With a wingspan reaching more than two metres, the Wedge-tailed Eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey and one of the biggest eagles in the world. The Wedge-tailed Eagle is one of 24 diurnal (day-active) raptor species in Australia. Like other birds of prey, it has a hooked bill and large talons. It can weigh 4kg, measure 1m from head to tail-tip and has a wingspan of up to 2.3m (females are larger than males). Young birds have brown feathers that become progressively darker as the bird ages; mature adults are dark brown to black with white and bronze feathers on their necks and wings. The bird’s long powerful legs are feathered to the base of the toe. Wedge-tailed Eagles are monogamous: they mate for life. Breeding pairs are territorial, and will defend their hunting ground and their large, impressive nests. Built of sticks and lined with leaves, their nests can measure 2m across, 3m deep and weigh more than 400kg. The nests are so large that smaller birds, like finches, can nest in the underside, benefiting from the protection from predators offered by the eagles. Nests are usually built in the tallest tree in the vicinity. In parts of Australia where there are no large trees available, the eagles will create nests in shrubs, on telegraph poles, on cliff faces and even on the ground. A pair may have up to 10 different nests within their territory, and will often use a different nest in different years. The bulk of their diet is made up of mammals – rabbits, hares, kangaroos and wallabies – but they also consume large birds (waterfowl) and lizards. They will hunt live prey and work in pairs or in groups, especially when hunting adult kangaroos. One bird can lift 50% of its body weight. A large component of their diet is carrion: they scavenge on road kill and carcasses. In the early to mid 1900s, farmers believed that Wedge-tailed Eagles killed sheep and lambs. A bounty was paid for their destruction, leading to the death of tens of thousands of eagles. It’s now understood that eagles only attack sick or dead lambs, and have little real effect on the sheep industry. Now, the main threats to Wedge-tailed Eagles are tree-clearing and the loss of nesting sites; indirect poisoning from Dingo baits; secondary poisoning (eating rabbits laced with pindone, for instance); collision with overhead wires, fences, and with vehicles while eating road kill. (Source: Bush Heritage, 2019), (Image: Fiona-Harvey).

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

The Letter-winged Kite is a small to medium-sized raptor (bird of prey). It has a white head, tail and underparts, and is mostly pale grey above. The female bird has a greyer crown. A distinctive black 'W' shape across the underside of its long, broad white wings gives the bird its name. When perching, it has an obvious black shoulder patch. Its large eyes, which are a bright red, are surrounded by black eye-patches, giving it an owl-like appearance. The legs are flesh-coloured. The Letter-winged Kite is a nocturnal hunter, pouncing on small rodents and marsupials. Its main prey is the Long-haired Rat. The Letter-winged Kite is an opportunistic breeder. This means that the timing of breeding is variable and may be extended in good seasons. The kites may breed in colonies, from 2 to 100 pairs when conditions are right and food is plentiful. The female mainly incubates, broods and cares for the young, while the male brings food for his mate and the nestlings. If food becomes scarce, the nest and young may be abandoned. The nest is well hidden and made of small sticks and twigs, lined with leaves and often rat fur or regurgitated pellets. (Source: Birdlife Australia, n.d.), (Image: Allan Bock).

Black Kite

Black Kite

A dark brown medium-sized bird of prey that from a distance appears almost black. It has a pale brown bar across its wings and a pale brown face. In flight it has long slightly drooped wing tips and a forked to triangular tail that it twists and tilts. The underwing has a slightly paler patch towards the tips, but this is often not obvious. Dark brown bill and eyes with a yellow cere (bare area of skin above the beak). They are usually seen in flocks, sometimes of hundreds, soaring and swooping effortlessly in the sky above. They are often seen in large numbers swooping in and out of the smoke of Australian fires after insects and reptiles that are escaping or cooked by the fire. Also commonly seen feeding on carrion on roadsides. Occasionally pairs and small groups can be seen tumbling about the sky in ritualised courtship displays. The nest is a robust cup of sticks and twigs in the fork of a tall tree, often along a watercourse. Sometimes they nest in groups. They lay 2-3 dull white eggs blotched with reddish brown. They prefer woodlands, open country and around towns, particularly near rubbish dumps and abattoirs. (Source: Atlas of Living Australia, n.d.), (Image: Don Caswell).

Brown Goshawk

Brown Goshawk

The Brown Goshawks are medium-sized raptors (birds of prey). They have a brown head, slate-grey to brown upperparts with a red-brown collar across the upper nape of the neck, and finely barred underparts of red-brown with white. The rounded wings are dark brown to grey above and buff to reddish brown below with darker wingtips, and the long rounded tail is grey with dark bars. The long legs are yellow, with reddish brown feathering about the thighs. The eye is bright yellow. Males are smaller than females. Young birds have grey-brown eyes, with brown, streaky plumage. It is a natural predator of birds, reptiles, frogs, large insects and mammals up to the size of rabbits. Brown Goshawks will hunt domestic fowl on occasions, usually either as juveniles, but sometimes as adults if they are extremely hungry due to illness, injury, or extreme environmental conditions leading to a shortage of prey in the wild. In a small number of cases a Goshawk may become habituated and regularly harrass birds in aviaries. If this happens, it may be possible for a licensed trapper to remove the bird for rehabilitation and relocation. Brown Goshawks hunt by stealth, relying on surprise to catch their prey. They are highly agile in flight, able to power through very small gaps in the canopy without colliding with branches. They can become so focussed on pursuing small birds that they will occasionally chase them into pergolas and al frescoes, or even into houses. If this happens, simply turn the lights off and leave the largest door open to encourage the bird to leave. The Brown Goshawk's preferred habitat is dry, open eucalypt forest and woodland. They are often found in tree-lined areas around inland rivers and creeks, and are only rarely seen on open grassland as they require cover to hunt. Brown Goshawks form long term pair bonds and will breed in the same area for many years. (Source: Society for the Preservation of Raptors, n.d.), (Image: Don Caswell).

Collared Sparrowhawk

Collared Sparrowhawk

The Collared Sparrowhawk looks a lot like the Brown Goshawk but is smaller in size. This is a small, slightly built hawk, the females being slightly larger than the males. The feathers are grey or brown above; the breast and underparts are beautifully striped chestnut and cream. The bill, eyes and legs are yellow. They prefer forests and woodlands, especially in areas where there are many small birds which they can hunt. Their diet is mainly small birds, including caged birds such as canaries and budgerigars. Prey is usually taken in flight. A nest is usually built in a fork of a tall tree and is made from sticks, often lined with green leaves. The same nest is used each year and often increases in size as more sticks are added. 2 or 3 eggs are usually laid and incubated mostly by the female. (Source: Greening Australia, n.d.), (Image: Wanda Optland).