White-bellied Sea Eagle

White-bellied Sea Eagle

White-bellied Sea Eagle, Haliaeetus leucogaster, is a significantly larger bird to the Osprey, and is recognisable by its white head, belly and legs. The back, base of the tail and back of the wings are grey. In flight, the belly and shoulders are white, and the flight feathers are dark grey. Juveniles are brown, and become lighter with age. In flight, the bird soars with a distinct "V" shape. This species, like the Osprey, is listed under the Commonwealth EPBC Act, as a Migratory species. White-bellied Sea Eagle has a smaller global distribution to the Osprey, and is restricted to the coastline and interior watercourses and wetlands of Australia and South-East Asia. In Australia, it is known to extend further inland than the Osprey, following major watercourses and wetlands in northern and eastern Australia. In the western part of South Australia, this species is confined to the coastal fringes, and nests in similar habitats to the Osprey.

White-bellied Sea Eagles eat mainly fish, but they are also known to eat other birds and small mammals. The hunting behaviour is a skim over the water, not a dive like an Osprey. The breeding season is in Spring, from August to October. Hatching takes about a month and a half, but fledging time is three months, with a further two months of dependency on the adult birds. White-bellied Sea Eagles may live for up to 30 years.

These birds are rare in South Australia, and like the Osprey, the Chain of Bays coastline is critical to their survival in this State. There may be as few as 55 breeding pairs in South Australia, five of which are known to inhabit the Chain of Bays region. Disturbance, particularly during the breeding season, is a major threat to these birds, and management actions similar to those proposed for the Osprey are essential for the survival of this magnificent creature in the Chain of Bays. Terry Dennis is currently monitoring Osprey and White-Bellied Sea Eagle activity in the region, and he would like to know of any observations of these birds in the area (+61 08 85 527659)

Visitors should avoid disturbing nest sites and no approaches should be made to nesting areas. These birds are particularly sensitive to approaches being made from above the nest and during the breeding season especially, a wide berth should be made around the nesting areas. Adult birds which fly above the nest emitting distress calls are a sure sign of disturbance and visitors should retreat immediately.

The sensitive breeding period for coastal raptors on Eyre Peninsula, is between July to as late as April, but breeding pairs remain in the vicinity of the nest year-round, so nest sites should be avoided at all times.



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