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White-bellied Sea-Eagle

An Adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight

Adult in flight

An immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight

Immature bird

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Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucogaster

Size: Both sexes are similar, with males (around 75 cm) being slightly smaller than females (up to 85 cm).

What does it look like?

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle has white on the head, rump and underparts and dark grey on the back and wings. In flight the black flight feathers on the wings are easily seen when the bird is viewed from below. The large, hooked bill is grey with a black tip, and the eye is dark brown. The legs and feet are cream-white, with long black talons (claws). The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is the second largest bird of prey found in Australia. The largest is the Wedge-tailed Eagle, Aquila audax, which measures up to 1 m. The Wedge-tailed Eagle is mostly brown, with a wedge-shaped tail.

Young Sea-Eagles may be confused with the Wedge-tailed Eagle, but differ in having a paler head and tail and more steeply upswept wings when soaring.

Where is it found?

White-bellied Sea-Eagles are a common sight in coastal and near coastal areas of Australia. In addition to Australia, the species is found in New Guinea, Indonesia, China and India.

What are its habitats & habits?

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle feeds mainly of aquatic animals, such as fish, turtles and sea snakes, but it will also take birds and mammals. It is a skilled hunter, and will attack prey up to the size of a swan. Sea-Eagles may also feed on carrion (dead prey) such as sheep. Smaller birds are sometimes chased and forced to drop any food that they are carrying. Birds feed alone, in pairs or in family groups.

White-bellied Sea-Eagles build a large stick nest, that is used for many seasons in succession. The nest can be located in a tree up to 30 m above the ground, but may be also be placed on the ground or on rocks, where there are no suitable trees. At the start of the breeding season (May to October), the nest is lined with fresh green leaves and twigs. The female does most of the incubation of the 2 white eggs, but the male does perform this duty from time to time.

Birds form permanent pairs that inhabit permanent territories. Their loud “goose-like” honking call is a familiar sound, particularly during the breeding season. Birds are normally seen, perched high in a tree, or soaring over waterways and adjacent land.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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