The Wedge-tailed eagle is the largest bird of prey in Australia, which is also found in Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. It has long, fairly broad wings, fully feathered legs, and an unmistakable wedge-shaped tail. Young eagles are mid-brown in color with slightly lighter and reddish-brown wings and head. As they grow older, their color becomes darker, reaching a dark blackish-brown shade after about 10 years. Adult females tend to be slightly paler than males.
Wedge-tailed eagles are found throughout Australia, including Tasmania, in part of Papua New Guinea, and in Indonesia. These birds live in woodlands, grasslands and savannas, dense forests, mountainous regions, and shrublands.
These impressive birds of prey spend much of the day perching in trees or on rocks or similar exposed lookout sites such as cliffs from which they have a good view of their surroundings. Now and then, they take off from their perch to fly low over their territory. During the intense midday heat, they often soar high in the air, circling up on the thermal currents that rise from the ground below. Each pair occupies a home range which boundary they patrol and advertise their ownership with high-altitude soaring and gliding flights. They may defend their territory by diving on intruders. Wedge-tailed eagles may hunt singly, in pairs or in small groups. Most prey is captured on the ground in gliding attacks or (less frequently) in the air. Wedge-tailed eagles are generally silent but their calls sound as whistling and loud shrill screams.
Wedge-tailed eagles are carnivores and scavengers. Most of their diet consists of rabbits and brown hares but they also feed on larger mammals such as foxes, feral cats, wallabies, small kangaroos, possums, wombats, koalas, and bandicoots. In some areas, Wedge-tailed eagles prey on birds such as cockatoos, Australian brushturkeys, ducks, crows, ibises, and even young emus. Reptiles are less frequently taken but can include frill-necked lizards, goannas, and brown snakes.
Wedge-tailed eagles are monogamous and mate for life. As the breeding season approaches, pairs perch close to each other and preen one another. They also perform dramatic aerobatic display flights together over their territory. Sometimes, the male dives down at breakneck speed towards his partner. As he pulls out of his dive and rises just above her; she either ignores him or turns over to fly upside down, stretching out her talons. The pair may then perform a loop-the-loop flight. Wedge-tailed eagles usually nest in the fork of a tree between 1-30 m above the ground, but if no suitable sites are available, they will nest on a cliff edge. Before the female lays eggs, both birds either build the large stick nest or add new sticks and leaf lining to an old nest. Nests can be 2-5 m deep and 2-5 m wide. The female usually lays 2 eggs, which are incubated by both parents. After about 45 days, the chicks hatch. At first, the male does all the hunting. When the chicks are about 30 days old, the female stops brooding them and joins her mate to hunt for food. Eaglets depend on their parents for food up to 6 months after hatching and leave only when the next breeding season approaches.
The main threat to Wedge-tailed eagles is habitat loss through extensive clearing and deforestation. Other important threats to these powerful birds include illegal persecution and collisions with powerlines.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Wedge-tailed eagle total population size. According to the Australian Government (Department of the Environment and Energy) resource, the total population size of the Wedge-tailed eagle in Tasmania is estimated at less than 1 000 birds. This includes less than 440 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are increasing.
Wedge-tailed eagles are top predators in their ecosystem; due to their diet habits, they control populations of introduced brown rabbits which make up a large part of these birds' diet.