Sunday, June 1, 2014

Eagles of the World: The White-tailed Sea Eagle

 The White-Tailed Sea Eagle, “Haliaeetus albicillo,” is a very large bird that is considered closely related to the Bald Eagle. 

Head shot - White-tailed Sea Eagle (photo: wikipedia)

Its wingspan can measure anywhere between five and eight feet in length.  This Eagle is known to be one of the largest Eagles in the world averaging slightly larger than the Bald Eagle.  Moreover, the White-Tailed Sea Eagle is ranked on average the fourth largest and fourth heaviest bird in the world.  The largest recorded weighed in at 17lbs.

Full body photo - White-tailed Sea Eagle (photo: wikipedia)

This Eagle is characterized by thick yellow beak and feet, broad wingspan, and large head.  The White-Tailed Sea Eagle has mostly brownish-gray plumage with the exception of a slightly lighter head and neck, dark, nearly black flight feathers, and its distinctive white tail feathers.  The average lifespan of a White-Tailed Sea Eagle is 21 years, although some have lived upwards of 25 years.

White-tailed Sea Eagle fishing (photo: wikipedia)

Like most birds of prey the diet of a White-Tailed Sea Eagle varies due to season and opportunity.  Because these birds inhabit mostly coastal areas, the majority of their diet is in the form of scavenged mammals, birds, or fish.  Any fish that is near the surface of the water is likely to fall victim to this large predator.  Their main source of food during the winter months consists primarily of carrion, although it seems they prefer fish and ungulates.  They have sometimes been known to target water-based birds as well as land birds.  They will repeatedly fly towards a water bird causing it to dive again and again until the bird has become exhausted and is no longer hard to catch.  Once the water bird has been killed the White-Tailed Sea Eagle will fly the prey across the top of the water to the shore where it will then be consumed.
These Eagles reach sexual maturity around 4 or 5 years of age whereupon they will then find a mate and pair for life.  If one eagle dies they are usually comfortable finding a replacement fairly quickly. 

Pairs usually produce between one and three eggs a year, which are laid about 2 to 3 days apart.  Once the eggs have been laid they are then incubated for another 35-40 days by both the male and female.  At 11-12 weeks the nestlings are now mature enough to feed themselves and promptly fledge.  The youngsters remain close to their nest for another 6-10 weeks, then leave their parents’ care completely.  Juveniles tend to disperse from breeding areas and become more migratory than the mature Eagles. 

Range of the White-tailed Sea Eagle (photo: wikipedia)

For the most part, these apex predators can be found mainly around Europe.  However, they have been known to range anywhere from Greenland to Southern China and often inhabit areas close to water. 

Cousteau, WBS's resident White-tailed Sea Eagle (photo: Gay Schroer)

The World Bird Sanctuary is fortunate to have one of these magnificent birds on our display line.  The next time you visit WBS be sure to stroll down the line to see Cousteau, our resident White-tailed Sea Eagle.

Submitted by Callie Plakovic, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

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