I picked today’s animal because lately I’ve had a hankering to draw some kind of claw or talon. When I think of impressive talons, I immediately think of eagles, so I searched around until I found a suitable candidate. And lo! The wedge-tailed eagle popped up, and I couldn’t have found a better bird to draw and to write about.
The wedge-tailed eagle is found in Australia, so I’m shocked it’s not venomous. There are also populations in New Guinea and Indonesia. Wedge-tailed eagles are fairly flexible about where they live: they can be found in almost all habitats in Australia, including rainforest, forests, savanna and mountainous areas. Though they can be found in a wide variety of habitats, they do tend to prefer more open areas, such as woodlands and grasslands.
Wedge-tailed eagles are big, and are in fact the largest birds of prey in Australia. Like all raptor species, females are bigger than males, measuring up to 2.84 m in wingspan. This is the largest wingspan recorded for a species of eagle. This does not classify wedge-tailed eagles as the largest species in the world, however. Their wings and tails are long for their body size, and so a number of other eagle species outweigh wedge-tailed eagles.
These eagles get their name from the long, wedge-shaped tail that is unique to their species. They are dark brown or black, with reddish brown feathers under their wings and around their neck and shoulders. Young eagles are golden brown or reddish brown, and darken as they age.
Wedge-tailed eagles are gliders, soaring at very high heights for hours. They will often be found soaring at altitiudes of over 1,800 m. They spend most of their time perching and surveying their lands. These birds aggressively defend their territory, soaring in arcs and diving to advertise their ownership. If an unfortunate bird does enter a wedge-tailed eagle’s home range, the eagle will dive and attack the intruder. They will also attack hang gliders and paragliders that enter their territory, which is presumably an unsettling experience for the gliders.
Wedge-tailed eagles hunt and scavenge for their food. Their main source of prey are rabbits and hares — both of which are introduced species. Eagles will also hunt foxes, cats, wallabies, kangaroos, koalas and other birds. On rare occasions, wedge-tailed eagles will work together to hunt larger prey, such as red kangaroos. They are known to chase goats off hillsides so that they injure themselves, and will isolate weaker animals from flocks for easy hunting. Wedge-tailed eagles are adaptable, and are not above scavenging. They will chase crows away from carrion and are often seen feeding on roadkill.
Like many birds, wedge-tailed eagles are monogamous. They choose one partner for life, and will stick together until one of the pair dies. Breeding season occurs from June to August. The birds build a nest from sticks and leaves, usually in trees or on cliffs or hillsides. The nests are used from year to year, and can reach sizes of 1.8 m wide and 3 m deep after years of use.
Females lay one to three eggs in the nest, which do not hatch simultaneously. This means that the first chick to hatch has an advantage over its siblings. When food is scarce, the elder chick will often kill the other young, by outcompeting them or through a direct attack. The young fledge at 75 to 95 days of age, and are dependent on their parents for another three to five months. Sexual maturity is reached at about three years of age, but eagles usually will not mate until they have their adult plumage, which occurs around six years of age.
Thankfully this majestic species is not currently threatened, though the Tasmanian subspecies is considered to be endangered. As adults, wedge-tailed eagles have no natural predators, but they were once hunted by humans who wanted to protect their livestock. It has since been shown that wedge-tailed eagles do not have a large impact on livestock populations, so farmers can now leave them alone, which is fabulous news for both famers and the eagles.
Cover image by fir0002 flagstaffotos [at] gmail.com Canon 5D III + Canon 400mm f/5.6 L, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons