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The largest bird of prey lives here…

January 9th, 2012

Not far from where I live, actually, close to the town of Castlereagh in Sydney’s western outskirts live a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles. Aquila audax, as they are known among the scientific community is the largest bird of prey in Australia and it is a true eagle, belonging in the Aquilidae (booted eagles) family. The only other true eagle we have is the Little Eagle (Hieraeetus morphnoides), which is tiny when compared to the Wedge-tailed Eagle’s large size. Our booted eagles are characterized by feathering right down to the talons, evident when viewed closely. Wedgies, as they are known among the birding community, are rather imposing with a thick-looking eyebrow, large eyes, a huge bill and feet. They mean business. You’d expect that something this size will take a very large prey item, but their favourite food is in fact rabbits. Yes, the introduced species, which is often considered a pest is a Wedgies favourite meal followed by reptiles, which are in many instances large lizards. Although, their food items are also dependent upon the geographical area they occupy with different areas offering different types of prey. Wedgies are also capable of taking kangaroos, with a group of these eagles able to disable and kill a kangaroo of around 60kg in weight! That’s the size of a human if you really think about it.

The female, watching me one morning. She has been quite approachable allowing me to get to within 30m of her perch tree.

I was never so impressed by a bird as when I first saw them glide across Castlereagh Rd, near the quarries one morning at around 05:45 as I was driving up with my three dogs to take them for their morning walk in the area. The pair of adult wedgies just floated about 15m above the road surface sweeping from one side to another, finally swooping up to the east side of a small lake where they roosted side-by-side in a tall eucalypt. This branch is still one of their preferred perches that they use and one, I think the female, was there again this morning, observing the line of traffic going to work and I suspect she was too busy looking for a careless rabbit over the opposite side in the huge fields.

Wedge-tailed Eagle with Australian Raven escort.

This time it's an Australian Magpie pursuing the mighty eagle.

My most amazing encounter occured around mid-September 2011, when driving home from Richmond after a morning’s photography, I noted both adults flying low, being chased by an Australian Raven and an Australian Magpie. I quickly pulled over and got my 500mm lens out of its case (normally I have the camera/lens ready to shoot at moment’s notice, but not this day) and I was literally scrambling to put a 2x converter on as well to get me 1,000mm focal length. I was shooting frantically as the eagles circled low, then gained altitude as the two passerines were in close pursuit relentlessly attacking. I have even managed an acceptable image with the raven pulling at a primary feather of the eagle’s wing. That is really bold. The eagle was carrying a rabbit. As both eagles slowly ascended, they got higher and higher, soon reaching heights too high for the two passerines who gave up the chase. Then the eagles headed towards the SW, I guess to their nest to feed their young. I am still hoping that sometime in the next year or two I will find where they nest so I can study them from closer proximity.

Enjoy these few images of my favourite bird of prey. The Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax).

Nature Photography