Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Aves (Birds) Order: Falconiformes Family: Accipitridae Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucogaster Common name: White-bellied Sea-Eagle
Other names: White-breasted Fish-Hawk, White-breasted Sea-Eagle (Marchant & Higgins 1993)
The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is a large raptor that has long, broad wings and a short, wedge-shaped tail. It measures 75–85 cm in length, and has a wingspan of 180–220 cm. Females weigh between 2.8 and 4.2 kg, and are larger than the males, which weigh between 2.5 and 3.7 kg (Clunie 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993).
The plumage of adult birds is predominantly white and grey. The head, breast and belly, and the feathering on the legs, are white. The back and upper surfaces of the wings are grey, although the wings have black tips. The undersides of the wings are greyish-black around the distal edges, with a smaller area of white along the leading edge. The tail is grey at the base, and has a white tip. The bill is bluish-grey with a blackish tip, the iris is dark brown, and the legs and feet are a cream colour (Clunie 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993).
The juveniles differ from the adults in appearance in having predominantly dark brown plumage on the upper parts, except for the creamy colouring on the head, and creamy markings over the rest of the upper parts. The underside of the body is a similar colour to the upper parts, but becomes paler with wear. The under side of the wing is patterned with a mixture of orange-buff, white, dark brown and dark grey. There is a gradual transition from the brown and cream plumage of juvenile birds to the white and grey plumage of the adults. This transition is completed across a series of moults, over a period of several years (Clunie 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993).
The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is generally seen singly or in pairs, though it may occasionally congregate around sites where food is abundant (Marchant & Higgins 1993)
White-bellied Sea-Eagles are a common sight in coastal and near coastal areas of Australia. In addition to Australia, the species is found in New Guinea, Indonesia, China, south-east Asia and India
White-bellied Sea-Eagles are normally seen perched high in a tree, or soaring over waterways and adjacent land. Birds form permanent pairs that inhabit territories throughout the year.
The White-bellied Sea-Eagle feeds mainly off aquatic animals, such as fish, turtles and sea snakes, but it takes birds and mammals as well. It is a skilled hunter, and will attack prey up to the size of a swan. Sea-Eagles also feed on carrion (dead prey) such as sheep and fish along the waterline. They harass smaller birds, forcing them to drop any food that they are carrying. Sea-Eagles feed alone, in pairs or in family groups.
White-bellied Sea-Eagles build a large stick nest, which is used for many seasons in succession. The nest can be located in a tree up to 30m above the ground, but may also be placed on the ground or on rocks, where there are no suitable trees. At the start of the breeding season, the nest is lined with fresh green leaves and twigs. The female carries out most of the incubation of the white eggs, but the male performs this duty from time to time.