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An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

  1. Wbse_bill_markbell-cropped White bellied sea eagle by Bill & Mark Bell

White-bellied Sea-Eagle

Haliaeetus leucogaster

Appearance

  • White-bellied sea eagles are a large bird of prey.
  • They have a dark grey back with a white head, white chest and white belly. 
  • Their legs are also white and have long black claws. 
  • They have dark eyes and a light-coloured, hooked beak.
  • When viewed in flight, the undersides of the wings are a distinctive half white and half grey-brown. The tail is also distinctively wedged-shape.
  • Size:  male- 76cm; female- 84cm
  • Juvenile (first year) head buffish and ‘spiky’, contrasting with patchy cream and dark brown body and wings; underwing pattern also patchy, but note half-moon at base of taol feathers. Older juveniles have pale buff-grey tail.
  • Nest: huge, of sticks; in tall live tree near water; on ground on island, remote coastal cliff

Behaviour

Hovers low over prey, or makes sloping power-dive from height or high perch to seize fish from surface; seldon enters water. Breeds May to August.

What to Observe

What to observe (record adult birds only):

  • Resting
  • Feeding 
  • Courting/mating
  • Presence of nest
  • Presence of young

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

White bellied sea eagles are top predators in coastal areas and can often be seen hunting fish and small mammals along beaches, estuaries and sand dunes. Their presence may indicate a healthy coastal ecosystem with many food sources and foraging areas available.

When To Look

Throughout the year.

Where To Look

  • Usually found along coast lines, but can also be found inland around lakes, rivers and dams.
  • Throughout  Australia

Sightings

References

Slater, P. Slater, P. and Slater, R. (1988). The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. Lansdowne-Rigby Publishers NSW, Australia.

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  1. What Else?

    The white-bellied sea eagle looks similar to the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) but the eagle is much bigger and has a wedge shaped rather than fan shaped tail.  It could also be confused with a black shouldered kite (Elanus notatus), but kites are much smaller (36cm) compared to the 76-84cm white-bellied sea eagle and have light coloured eyes 

  1. Did You Know?

    Sea eagles are the second largest bird of prey in Australia, after the wedge-tailed eagle. 

    Sea eagles also eat carrion (dead prey), and can also be found eating road kill. 

    They can be seen harassing smaller birds forcing them to drop their foods they can steal it.

    They pair up for life and are territorial.

    They can also be found in China, India, South-east Asia, Indonesia and New Guinea.