Steve
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The Biggest Eagle in the World?

Wedge-tailed Eagle

The Wedge-tailed Eagle, Aquila audax, is the biggest bird of prey native to Australia, and is one of the biggest Eagles in the world.  In fact is one of the three types of Eagle I have heard being described at "The biggest Eagle in the world". The other two were the Monkey Eating Eagle of the Philippines and the Golden Eagle of America.   In fact, Wedge-tailed Eagle is related to the Golden Eagle

Female Wedge-tailed Eagles are a little bigger than the males and can weigh over 11lb (5Kg), with a wing span of eight feet (2.3m).  In captivity this bird can live for fifty years although it is believed their average life span in the wild is less than this.

The Wedge-tailed Eagle is the most common of the world's eagles but not nearly as common as it used to be.  There was a belief that the Wedge-tailed Eagle killed a lot of lambs and a bounty was put on them.  About Two Million Eagles were killed before proper research was finally done into the eating habits of the Wedge-tailed Eagle.  It was found that the Wedge-tailed Eagle rarely killed lambs.  They do not even like the taste much although they will often eat lambs killed be other things or which had died from other causes.

One of the animals that does kill some lambs is the Fox. Foxes were found to be part of the diet of the Wedge-tailed Eagle.  Foxes are a major lamb killer.  Killing the two million Wedge-tailed Eagles may have actually allowed more Foxes to survive and kill more lambs as well as things like poultry.

A major item of the diet of Wedge-tailed Eagles is Rabbits.  Possibly Australia would have less Rabbits if the eagles had been allowed to survive.  Eco systems are complicated, and interference without proper knowledge is dangerous.  It is sometimes said that Australia's native animals cannot compete with introduced animals.  While there is some truth in that, the situation is often not quite so simple.  An example of where introduced animal were able to eradicate a prolific introduced species was Rabbits on Kangaroo Island.

Some early settlers deliberately introduced Rabbits to Kangaroo Island.  Nowadays this would be considered an act of extreme environmental vandalism, but ideas have changed.  The native Goannas of the island found they liked the taste of baby rabbits and they would go down the rabbit holes and eat the babies.  Now there are no rabbits on Kangaroo Island.  Possibly if the mainland native predators had not been deliberately killed, rabbits would be in a better balance with the environment.

Wedge-tailed Eagles are now protected by law.  Unfortunately not everyone obeys the law.

Other things the Wedge-tailed Eagle eats are carrion, including animals killed on the road, and sometimes larger prey. Dave Irwin related a case of a large Kangaroo being killed by a Wedge-tailed Eagle although this is probably very rare.  A poultry Breeder I know, Norm Thomas, had one of his prized Rhode Island Red Roosters taken by a Wedge-tailed Eagle.

For Pictures of Wedge-tailed Eagles, see Wedge Tailed Eagle

Sources for this article include: the extremely informative "Birds of Prey" show by Dave Irwin on Kangaroo Island. Dave Irwin is the man in the picture holding an eighteen year old female Wedge-tailed Eagle.  I do not know if he is any relation to the late Steve Irwin.  See http://www.tourkangarooisland.com.au/wildlife/tours.aspx for more details
I have also used information from the Australian Museum. (http://www.austmus.gov.au/factsheets/wedge_tailed_eagle.htm)


The information from Norm Thomas is personal communication. In addition to this is my own observation of this magnificent bird.
 
Steve Challis
 
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Dave Erwin holding an 18 year old female Wedge-Tailed Eagle