The white bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) is a majestic coastal raptor found in parts of Southeast Asia, Australia, and the surrounding islands. Known for its striking appearance and impressive wingspan, this large bird of prey is an iconic symbol of the regions it inhabits.
With its distinctive white and gray plumage, powerful talons, and sharp beak, the white-bellied sea eagle is an awe-inspiring sight for bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
This is a truly spectacular Australian bird of prey.
Despite its name, it doesn’t live only in seaside areas. We spotted it near wetlands, far from the sea, especially along rivers. This very powerful bird is often heard in the mornings and at dusk calling its mate.
Diet and Hunting Behavior
The white bellied sea eagle is primarily a piscivore, feeding mainly on fish and other aquatic animals such as crustaceans, turtles, and small aquatic mammals. Its diet may also include waterbirds, carrion, and occasional land animals, depending on food availability in its habitat.
With keen eyesight and powerful talons, the white bellied sea eagle is a formidable predator, capable of snatching fish from the water’s surface or capturing prey on land or in the air. We were able to see it during the Adelaide River cruise.
Opportunistic hunting strategies
As an opportunistic hunter, the white bellied sea eagle employs various hunting techniques to maximise its chances of success. It can be seen soaring high above the water or perched on a vantage point, scanning for potential prey.
Once a target is spotted, the sea eagle swoops down with remarkable speed and agility, snatching its prey in its powerful talons. The white bellied sea eagle may also steal food from other birds such as ospreys, especially when its preferred food sources are scarce.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The white bellied sea eagle forms long-lasting monogamous pairs, with some partnerships lasting for the lifetime of the birds. The breeding pair engages in elaborate courtship displays, including soaring flights, aerial acrobatics, and vocalizations, to strengthen their bond and establish their territory.
Once a pair has formed, they will defend their chosen nesting area from intruders and other potential threats. Nest building is a collaborative effort between the male and female white-bellied sea eagle.
They construct large stick nests in tall trees, cliffs, or other elevated locations that provide a clear vantage point over their territory. The nest is lined with soft materials such as grasses, leaves, and seaweed for added insulation and comfort.
The female typically lays one to three eggs, which both parents take turns incubating for about 40 days. During this period, the non-incubating bird hunts for food and protects the nest from potential predators or rival birds.
Once the eggs hatch, both parents share the responsibility of feeding and caring for their chicks. As the chicks grow, they develop their feathers and begin to venture out of the nest, practicing their flying and hunting skills under the watchful eyes of their parents.
We were also told that that sibling rivalry is very strong in this eagle’s nest and often only one survives it.
White Bellied Sea Eagle – more information
The white-bellied sea eagle holds cultural and spiritual significance in various indigenous and local communities within its range. For example, in Aboriginal Australian culture, the sea eagle is often associated with creation stories, wisdom, and protection.
It is considered a totemic species by some groups, who respect and admire the bird for its strength and grace. Similarly, in other regions, the white-bellied sea eagle has been featured in traditional stories, and even local art, symbolising various attributes such as power, freedom, and guardianship.
Interesting facts about the white-bellied sea eagle
- The white-bellied sea eagle is known for its relatively long lifespan, with some individuals living up to 30 years in the wild. This extended lifespan allows the sea eagle to establish long-lasting bonds with its mate and contribute to multiple breeding seasons throughout its life.
- White bellied sea eagles may share their habitat with other large raptors, such as ospreys and Brahminy kites. Although they may occasionally engage in kleptoparasitism, stealing prey from these other birds, they generally coexist peacefully, each occupying a specific niche within the ecosystem.
- Besides their impressive flying abilities, white bellied sea eagles are also skilled swimmers. If they catch a large or heavy fish, they may not be able to lift it out of the water immediately. In such cases, they use their powerful wings to row themselves and their catch to the shore.
- The white bellied sea eagle is one of the largest raptors in its range and among the largest eagles in the world. Adult birds can measure up to 85-90 cm in length, with a wingspan that can reach an impressive 1.8-2.2 meters. This remarkable wingspan enables the sea eagle to soar effortlessly above the water and perform agile aerial maneuvers while hunting for prey.
- During times of food scarcity, white bellied sea eagles may engage in competition, where individuals or pairs compete with each other for food resources. These competitions can involve aggressive displays, vocalisations, and even physical confrontations.
- White-bellied sea eagle parents show strong devotion to their offspring. If their nest is threatened by predators or other dangers, they will fiercely defend their chicks, sometimes risking injury to protect their young.