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Wedge-tailed Eagle
Aquila audax

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Stable.

Other Names: Eaglehawk, Mountain Eagle.

Aquila audax
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Distribution: Australasian. AUSTRALIA, including TASMANIA, and southern NEW GUINEA. more....

Subspecies: 2 races. A. a. audax: AUSTRALIA (except Tasmania) and southern NEW GUINEA; A. a. fleayi: TASMANIA. more....

Taxonomy: Formerly placed in a separate genus Uroaetus. The study of Lerner and Mindell (2005), using the molecular seqences of two mitochondrial genes and one nuclear gene, showed that the genus Aquila, as presently constituted in most phylogenetic treatments, is not monophyletic. They found that the Aquila chrysaetos, Spizaetus africanus, Hieraaetus fasciatus, A. verreauxii, A. audax, and A. gurneyi form a clade of closely related species. Helbig et al. (2005) found similar relationships, based on DNA sequences from one mitochondrial and two nuclear genes. Earlier, a close relationship among A. chrysaetos, A. audax, A. gurneyi, and A. verreauxii was proposed by Brown and Amadon (1968), based on morphological data. The data of Haring et al. (2007), based on sequences of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome b gene, showed that A. africanus clusters with a group that includes A. fasciatus, A. audax, and A. gurneyi.

Movements: Irruptive or local migrant, with juveniles dispersing from breeding areas (Bildstein 2006). Juveniles usually disperse up to 200 km, but occasionally up to 800 km after achieving independence (Debus 1998). more....

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in most terrestrial habitats except for intensively settled or cultivated areas (Debus 1998). Most commonly found over inland plains, tending to avoid human habitation (Olsen 1995). In Tasmania, these eagles occur in a wide variety of habitats, including coastal heath, dry woodland, sub-alpine forest, temperate rainforest, dwarf coniferous forest, grasslands, and cleared land (Thomas 1979). Usually seen soaring high above hills, mountain peaks, or escarpments, or over flat plains, and it also perches in tall dead trees or on rocky promontories (Debus op cit.). Usually found singly, or in pairs, but is occasionally gregarious, especially around large carcasses.

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on mammals, birds, reptiles, and carrion, particularly road kills (Debus 1998). Rabbits and hares are preferred in the south, and young kangaroos and wallabies are favored in the north. Opossums are taken in tropical rainforest. Avian prey items are mostly crows, cockatoos, and waterfowl, but species up to the size of cranes and bustards are also taken (Debus op cit.). This eagle forages by low, slow quartering, high soaring, or by still-hunting from a perch. Prey is seized from the ground or occasionally from the tree canopy after a swift glide or dive; prey is rarely taken in flight. Certain prey, e.g., possums, may be removed from tree hollows. Pairs and larger groups may attack larger prey cooperatively, and share prey. These eagles dominate other scavengers at carcasses and occasionally rob other raptors (Debus 1998). more....

Breeding: Solitary nester, bullding a huge platform of sticks lined with green leaves and usually placed in a large tree (mostly eucalypts) from 2-73 m off the ground (Debus 1998). Nests are also placed on cliffs, among rocks, or even on the ground in areas safe from human access. Nests are re-used in successive years, and additional material is added to them. Clutch size is usually 2 eggs, but ranges from 1 to 4. The eggs are white with purplish-brown and reddish-brown markings. The incubation period is 42-44 days, and the nestling period is 79-90 days (Debus et al. 2007). Both parents share incubation and parental duties, although the female performing the greatest share of each. Juveniles are dependent upon the parents for at least four months after fledging. more....

Conservation: This species is widespread and common on the Australian mainland, where it has profited from the clearing of forest and the introduction of rabbits. Nevertheless, there are still problems in some areas, as the reporting rate for this species has declined 28% nationally in Australia as a whole and by 15% in New South Wales (Debus op cit.). This species is still shot, trapped, and deliberately poisoned in some areas by farmers who regard it as a serious predator of sheep. The Tasmanian race, fleayi, was recently downlisted to Vulnerable (Garnett et al. 2011), and it is threatened by habitat destruction, including the destruction or isolation of nest trees or their isolation, illegal shooting, and poisoning (Mooney 1988). There seems to be little, if any, federal or state support for conservation measures for this species in Tasmania, and the recovery team appears to have atrophied (Debus 2009). The Wedge-tailed Eagle is categorized globally as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) estimated the global population (defined as the number of adults and immatures at the start of the breeding season) aa being in the range of 101,000 to 1,000,000 individuals. BirdLife International (2009) estimated that there are only 100,000 mature individuals, while acknowledging that the supporting data for an estimate are poor.

Important References: 
Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies, and P.N. Reilly. 1984. The atlas of
  Australian birds. Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union and Melbourne
  University Press, Melbourne.
Cupper, J., and L. Cupper. 1981. Hawks in focus. Jaclin, Mildura,
  Victoria, Australia.
Debus, S.J.S. 1994. Wedge-tailed Eagle. P. 198 in del Hoyo, J., A.
  Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New
  World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Fitzherbert, K. 1992. Wedge-tailed Eagle (Tasmanian subspecies). Pp. 36-37
  in S.T. Garnett (ed.), Threatened and extinct birds of Australia.
  RAOU Report 82.
Gaffney, R.F., and N.J. Mooney. 1997. The Wedge-tailed Eagle recovery
  plan: management phase. Department of Parks, Wildlife and Heritage, Hobart,
  Tasmania, Australia.
Garnett, S.T., and G.M. Crowley. 2000. The Action Plan for Australian
  Birds 2000. Environment Australia, Canberra, Australia.
Helbig, A.J., A. Kocum, I. Seibold, and M.J. Braun. 2005. A multi-gene
  phylogeny of aquiline eagles (Aves: Accipitriformes) reveals extensive
  paraphyly at the genus level. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Hollands, D. 1984. Eagles, hawks and falcons of Australia. Nelson,
  Melbourne, Australia.
Lerner, H.R., and D.P. Mindell. 2005. Phylogeny of eagles, Old World
  vultures, and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.
  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37:327-346.
Marchant, S., and P. Higgins (eds.). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand,
  and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2. Raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press,
  Melbourne, Australia.
Mooney, N.J. 1997. The Wedge-tailed Eagle recovery plan, 1998-2003.
  Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Olsen, P. 1995. Australian birds of prey. John Hopkins University Press,
  Baltimore, MD.
Olsen, P. 2005. Wedge-tailed Eagle. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood,
  Victoria, Australia.
Olsen, P., F. Crome, and J. Olsen. 1983. Birds of prey & ground birds of
  Australia. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Australia.

Sites of Interest:
Wedge-tailed Eagle photos.
Wedge Tail Eagle
Devoted to the conservation of this species, including tips on how avoid hitting one on a highway.

Brown, Bill
Debus, Stephen
Gregory, Tim
Olsen, Jerry
Olsen, Penny

Last modified: 1/8/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2017. Species account: Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 20 Feb. 2017

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