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Australian White-Bellied Sea-Eagle

Sea-Eagle incubating eggs

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The White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), also known as the White-breasted Sea Eagle, is a large bird of prey. 

A distinctive bird, the adult White-bellied Sea Eagle has a white head, breast, under-wing and tail. The upper parts are grey and the black under-wing flight feathers contrast with the white coverts. The tail is short and wedge-shaped. 

The female is slightly larger than the male, and can measure up to 90 cm (36 in) long with a wingspan of up to 2.2 m (7 ft), and weigh 4.5 kg (10 lb). Immature birds have brown plumage which is gradually replaced by white until the age of five or six years. The call is a loud goose-like honking.

The White-bellied Sea Eagle is revered by indigenous people in many parts of Australia, and is the subject of various folk tales throughout its range.

The eagles we're viewing, perhaps the most famous pair of eagles in Australia, reside in Sydney’s Olympic Park, nesting high in a Scribbly Gum in the Newington Nature Reserve and feeding in the Parramatta River.

The nest has been used by a succession of Sea-Eagles over the years and by this pair since 2008.

The eagles are currently incubating two eggs, the first laid July 4th and the second laid July 7th; they're expected to hatch August 14-16.

Join us in our discussion forum for this camera (membership and login required) to share your observations and screenshots.


 

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White-bellied Sea-Eagles in the Wanngal Woodland Newington Nature Reserve


Geoff Hutchinson
Birds Australia
Sea-EagleCAM

There has been a Sea-Eagle nest in the woodland for many years, with a succession of eagle pairs renovating the nest in the breeding season. Historic observations go back to at least 1991. The early records are incomplete, but eagles have been observed in the woodland or fishing along the Parramatta River for many years. Both juvenile and adult Sea-Eagles have been seen in the area, but there are no early records of successful breeding. Sadly over the years, several eagles have been found dead.
The first recorded young in the nest was in 2003, when a juvenile was photographed on the nest. That bird fledged, and left the area.
In 2004, a pair built a nest in a Grey Mangrove tree on the banks of the Parramatta River– their favourite day-time place. They in fact built a second nest there, as their first was unstable. The female was sitting on eggs, which were expected to hatch soon, when she sadly died. The male was found dead nearby. Tests were conducted and it was probable that both died from the same unknown cause.
In the years following, eagles were reported, but not nesting, until 2008, when our current female nested successfully. Nest renovation and egg laying was observed and photographed from a hide nearby. We first recorded a chick in mid August and we were thrilled when it flew towards the end of October. It was found injured shortly after and taken into care, where it sadly died. The original male from this breeding was seen injured and disappeared earlier whilst the chick was still in the nest. However, there are Sea-Eagles passing, waiting for the opportunity to claim a mate or a territory, and a young adult male took on the parenting role until the chick fledged. Just after the chick fledged, the current male moved in and took up residence with our female.
 

Breeding records Parramatta River White-bellied Sea-Eagles

 

1991 – 2001

Sea-Eagles observed in the area  
Records of nest in woodland.
No breeding records

2002

Recorded in woodland

2003

Juvenile photographed on nest.
Fledged and left area

2004

Nest on river mangrove.
Eggs laid. Adults died.

2005-2007

Sea-Eagles observed in the area.
No breeding records

2008

Nest in woodland (current female)
Male 1 died, Juvenile male moved in, replaced by current male.
Eaglet fledged, died in care

2009

Current pair laid 2 eggs, 2 chicks hatched, 1 died.
Eaglet fledged and left the area.

2010

Current pair raised 2 chicks.
Both fledged and left the area

2011

February 2011 – old nest fell down
Current pair built new nest.
2 eggs laid early July . 2 chicks hatched early August.

 

 

Identification of Male & Female Birds in 2011

 

Characteristic

Female

Male

Overall Body Shape

Thicker set, bulkier.

Smaller build, skinnier looking.

Wing Colour

Slightly lighter shade of grey.

Slightly darker shade of grey.

Shoulders

Blotchy white patch where wing joins body. Diffuse dappling of white in scapulars behind shoulders.

Rather more sharp demarcation between wing and body like a white stripe. No diffuse dappling of white in scapulars.

Head Shape & Neck

Flatter back of crown, thicker neck makes female appear bigger headed.

Rounded back of crown, thinner neck makes male appear small headed.

Back

Diffuse transition between white of neck and grey of back.

Rather sharp transition between white of neck and grey of back.

Eyes

Oval shape to eyes, slightly fiercer looking brows.

Round shape to eyes giving “softer” looking face. Darker markings in front of eyes (like he has make-up on).

Bill

Lighter grey bill.

Dark grey bill.

Legs

More feathered, thicker looking “trousers”.

Less feathered, skinnier looking “trousers”.

Underwing

Distinct white terminal edges to primary underwing coverts (see wallpaper image on ustream).

Very slight grey edges to primary underwing coverts, usually indistinct from the black base colour.

Behaviour

Much more “relaxed” on nest.

Rather “nervous” looking on nest, constantly looking around, tends to stretch neck up and forwards (like a chicken) to look at things.

 

Current time in Sydney, Australia, is

 

Current time in Sydney, Australia, is

Thanks to timeanddate.com for providing the local time in Sydney.

 

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Questions and Answers on the Parramatta River White-bellied Sea-Eagles

Geoff Hutchinson
Birds Australia Sea-EagleCAM

1. Where are they? In the Wanngal Woodland –the Newington Nature Reserve at Sydney Olympic Park

2. Where is the nest? In a Scribbly gum – an Eucalypt tree – Eucalyptus haemastoma. The nest cannot be seen from outside the reserve.

3. How high is the nest? About 16 metres up

4. Where is the camera? The camera is near the nest, looking down into the bowl of the nest.

5. Is the nest safe? The nest is in a Nature Reserve, with restricted access. The site is protected by SOPA Security and Rangers and under observation by Birds Australia volunteers. This study is part of a research Project and the observations are carefully managed.

6. Are the eagles disturbed on the nest? As approved in the Research protocol, no-one goes near the nest until the chicks are at least 4 weeks old and then access is still limited. A buffer zone is maintained around the forest.

7. Where can EagleCAM be viewed live? From the Birds Australia Discovery Centre, in the Newington Armory at Sydney Olympic Park and on Ustream

8. What do they eat? Fish caught from the river and nearby wetlands – mainly mullet, bream, whiting; eels; Silver gulls. Other prey has been seen as well – Flying Fox, other birds, a feral cat

9. Which eagle catches the food? Both, though probably the male brings more prey

10. Which feeds the chicks? Both parents

11. How do the chicks keep warm? The parents brood the chicks, sitting over them for protection.

12. Which parents broods at night? Only the female
 

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