Wedge-tailed eagle

The wedge-tailed eagle or bunjil (Aquila audax) is the largest bird of prey in Australia, and is also found in southern New Guinea, part of Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. It has long, fairly broad wings, fully feathered legs, and an unmistakable wedge-shaped tail.

The wedge-tailed eagle is one of 12 species of large, predominantly dark-coloured booted eagles in the genus Aquila found worldwide. A large brown bird of prey, it has a wingspan up to 2.84 m (9 ft 4 in) and a length up to 1.06 m (3 ft 6 in).[2]

Wedge-tailed eagle
Aquila audax - Captain's Flat
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Aquila
A. audax
Binomial name
Aquila audax
(Latham, 1801)
AquilaAudaxIUCNver2019 1
Range of A. audax      Resident


The species was first described by the English ornithologist John Latham in 1801 under the binomial name Vultur audax.[3]

The two subspecies are:[4]

  • A. a. audax (Latham, 1801) – Australia, southern New Guinea
  • A. a. fleayi Condon & Amadon, 1954 – Tasmania


Wedge tailed eagle in flight04
In flight, the wedged tail is clearly visible.
Wedge tail eagle flight Jan13
Taking off from its perch, the long legs of this adult female are clearly visible.
Aquila audax nest 01 Pengo
Nest site in the Barmah-Millewa Forest
Aquila audax -Symbio Wildlife Park, New South Wales, Australia -head-8a
At Symbio Wildlife Park, New South Wales, Australia
Wedge-tailed eagle at Gladstone, in Central Queensland

The female wedge-tailed eagle weighs between 3.0 and 5.8 kg (6.6 and 12.8 lb), while the smaller males weigh 2 to 4 kg (4.4 to 8.8 lb).[2][5] Length varies between 81 and 106 cm (32 and 42 in) and the wingspan typically is between 182 and 232 cm (6 ft 0 in and 7 ft 7 in).[2][5] In 1930, the average weight and wingspans of 43 birds were 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) and 204.3 cm (6 ft 8 in).[6] The same average figures for a survey of 126 eagles in 1932 were 3.63 kg (8.0 lb) and 226 cm (7 ft 5 in), respectively.[7] The largest wingspan ever verified for an eagle was for this species. A female killed in Tasmania in 1931 had a wingspan of 284 cm (9 ft 4 in), and another female measured barely smaller at 279 cm (9 ft 2 in).[7] Similar claims, however, have been made for the Steller's sea eagle, which has also been said to reach or exceed 274 cm (9 ft) in wingspan. Reported claims of eagles spanning 312 cm (10 ft 3 in) and 340 cm (11 ft 2 in) were deemed to be unreliable.[7] This eagle's great length and wingspan place it among the largest eagles in the world, but its wings, at more than 65 cm (26 in), and tail, at 45 cm (18 in), are both unusually elongated for its body weight, and eight or nine other eagle species regularly outweigh it.[5]

Young eagles are a mid-brown colour with slightly lighter and reddish-brown wings and head. As they grow older, their colour becomes darker, reaching a dark blackish-brown shade after about 10 years (birds in Tasmania are usually darker than those on the mainland). Adult females tend to be slightly paler than males. Although it rarely needs to be distinguished from other Aquila eagles, its long, wedge-shaped tail is unique to this species.

Its range and habitat sometimes overlap with the white-bellied sea eagle, which is similar in size and shape, and also has a somewhat wedge-shaped tail, although rather smaller and less distinctive. In silhouette and poor light, the two can look somewhat similar. Closer examination reveals the belly colour or tail size to distinguish the two.

Breeding and habitat

Aigle d'Australie MHNT
Aquila audax egg – MHNT

Wedge-tails are found throughout Australia, including Tasmania, and southern New Guinea in almost all habitats, though they tend to be more common in lightly timbered and open country in southern and eastern Australia. In New Guinea, the birds can be found in the Trans Fly savanna and grasslands.

As the breeding season approaches, wedge-tailed eagle 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. The wedge-tailed eagle usually nests in the fork of a tree between one and 30 m above the ground, but if no suitable sites are available, it 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 two eggs, which are incubated by both sexes. 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.

The young wedge-tailed eagles depend on their parents for food up to six months after hatching. They leave only when the next breeding season approaches.

Behaviour and diet

Wedge-tailed eagles are highly aerial, soaring for hours on end without wingbeat and seemingly without effort, regularly reaching 1,800 m (5,900 ft) and sometimes considerably higher. The purpose of soaring is unknown. Their keen eyesight extends into ultraviolet bands.

Wedge-tailed Eagle (24689911341)
Feeding on carrion in the Pilbara region of Western Australia

Most prey is captured on the ground in gliding attacks or (less frequently) in the air. Choice of prey is very much a matter of convenience and opportunity; since the arrival of Europeans, the introduced rabbit and brown hare have become the primary items of the eagle's diet in many areas.[8] Larger introduced mammals such as foxes and feral cats are also occasionally taken, while native animals such as wallabies, small kangaroos, possums, wombats, koalas, and bandicoots are also prey. In some areas, birds such as cockatoos, Australian brushturkeys, ducks, crows, ibises, and even young emus are more frequent prey items. Reptiles are less frequently taken, but can include frill-necked lizards, goannas, and brown snakes.

They display considerable adaptability, and have been known to team up to hunt large red kangaroos, to cause goats to fall off steep hillsides and injure themselves, or to drive flocks of sheep or kangaroos to isolate a weaker animal.[9]

Carrion is a major diet item, also; wedge-tails can spot the activity of Australian ravens around a carcass from a great distance, and glide down to appropriate it. Wedge-tailed eagles are often seen by the roadside in rural Australia, feeding on animals that have been killed in collisions with vehicles.

This impressive bird of prey spends much of the day perching in trees or on rocks or similar exposed lookout sites such as cliffs from which it has a good view of its surroundings. Now and then, it takes off from its perch to fly low over its territory. During the intense heat of the middle part of the day, it often soars high in the air, circling up on the thermal currents that rise from the ground below. Each pair occupies a home range, which may extend from as little as 9 km2 (3.5 sq mi) to more than 100 km2 (39 sq mi). Within this home range lies a breeding territory around the nest. The eagle patrols the boundary of this home range and advertises its ownership with high-altitude soaring and gliding flights. It may defend its territory by diving on intruders. Adults are avian apex predators and have no natural predators, but must defend their eggs and nestlings against nest predators such as corvids, currawongs, or other wedge-tailed eagles, and in Tasmania, conflict with the white-bellied sea eagle often occurs over nest sites.

The wedge-tailed eagle is the only bird that has a reputation for attacking hang gliders and paragliders (presumably defending its territory). Cases are recorded of the birds damaging the fabric of these gliders with their talons. They have also been reported to attack and destroy unmanned aerial vehicles used for mining survey operations in Australia.[10]

The presence of a wedge-tailed eagle often causes panic among smaller birds, and as a result, aggressive species such as magpies, butcherbirds, masked lapwings, and noisy miners aggressively mob eagles (see video).

Conservation status

The subspecies from Tasmania (A. a. fleayi) is listed as endangered by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999[11] with fewer than 200 pairs left in the wild. Like the thylacine, the eagle was once subject to a bounty in Tasmania, as it was believed to prey on livestock.

Decreased numbers of Tasmanian devils (which are endangered) may be beneficial to the wedge-tailed eagles in Tasmania, as it could reduce competition for roadkill and devil predation on wedge-tailed eagle young, although that is not to say that devil populations should be reduced further.[12]

As an emblem

The bird is an emblem of the Northern Territory. The Parks and Wildlife Service of the Northern Territory uses the wedge-tailed eagle, superimposed over a map of the Northern Territory, as their emblem. The New South Wales Police Force emblem contains a wedge-tailed eagle in flight, as does the Northern Territory Correctional Services. La Trobe University in Melbourne also uses the wedge-tailed eagle in its corporate logo and coat of arms.[13] The wedge-tailed eagle is also a symbol of the Australian Defence Force, featuring prominently on the ADF Flag, and the Royal Australian Air Force and Australian Air Force Cadets both use a wedge-tailed eagle on their badges.[14] The Royal Australian Air Force has named its airborne early warning and control aircraft after the bird, the Boeing 737 AEW&C Wedgetail.

Early in 1967, the Australian Army 2nd Cavalry Regiment received its new badge, a wedge-tailed eagle swooping, carrying a lance-bearing the motto "Courage" in its talons. The regiment's mascot is a wedge-tailed eagle named "Courage". Since its formation, there have been two, Courage I and Courage II. In 1997, while on flight training with his handlers, Corporal Courage II refused to cooperate and flew away, not being found for two days following an extensive search. He was charged with being AWOL and reduced to the rank of trooper. He was promoted back to corporal in 1998.[15][16]

The West Coast Eagles AFL football club from Western Australia uses a stylised wedge-tailed eagle as their club emblem. In recent years, they have had a real-life wedge-tailed eagle named "Auzzie" perform tricks before matches.[17]

In flight, 'mobbed' by Australian magpie, Dayboro, SE Queensland

Samsonvale, SE Queensland, Australia


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Aquila audax". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Debus, S.J.S. (1994). "Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax)". In del Hoyo, Elliott; Sargatal (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. 2. p. 198. ISBN 84-87334-15-6.
  3. ^ Latham, John (1801). Supplementum indicis ornithologici sive systematis ornithologiae (in Latin). London: Leigh & Sotheby. p. ii.
  4. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "New World vultures, Secretarybird, kites, hawks & eagles". World Bird List Version 5.4. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Ferguson-Lees, Christie; Franklin, Mead & Burton (2001). Raptors of the World. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-12762-3.
  6. ^ Morgan, A. M. (1932). "The Spread and Weight of the Wedge-tailed Eagle (Uroaetus audax)" (PDF). S.A. Ornithologist. 11: 156–7.
  7. ^ a b c Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9.
  8. ^ Brooker, M.G.; Ridpath, M.G. (1980). "The Diet of the Wedge-tailed Eagle, Aquila Audax, in Western Australia". Australian Wildlife Research. 7 (3): 433–452. doi:10.1071/WR9800433.
  9. ^ Beattie, William A. (1990). Beef Cattle Breeding & Management. Popular Books. ISBN 0-7301-0040-5.
  10. ^ "Wedge-tailed eagles do battle with mining giant's drones, knocking nine out of sky". The Sydney Morning Herald. 17 November 2016.
  11. ^ Department of the Environment. "Aquila audax fleayi — Wedge-tailed Eagle (Tasmanian)". Australian Government. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  12. ^ "DRAFT Recovery Plan for the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)" (PDF). Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Australian Government. 2010. p. 15. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2011.
  13. ^ "Our history". La Trobe.
  14. ^ Force, Air. "Royal Australian Air Force - Air Force provides air and space power for Australia's security".
  15. ^ "2 Cav. 2nd Cavalry Regiment RAAC".
  16. ^ 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Australia)
  17. ^ "Auzzie Flies High With The West Coast Eagles".

Further reading

External links

2nd Cavalry Regiment (Australia)

The 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2 CAV) is an armoured cavalry regiment of the Australian Army. Formed in 1965 as the "1st Cavalry Regiment", it is the second most senior regiment in the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. In 1970, the regiment was redesignated as the "2nd Cavalry Regiment" to differentiate it from the 1st Armoured Regiment. The regiment was based at Holsworthy until 1992 when it was allocated to the 1st Brigade based in Darwin in the Northern Territory. In late 2014 the regiment was transferred to the 3rd Brigade, and is now based in Townsville in Queensland. The unit is equipped with M1A1 tanks and ASLAV light armoured vehicles.


The Aquilinae are a subfamily of eagles of the Accipitridae family. The general common name used for members of this subfamily is "booted eagle", although this is also the common name of a member of the subfamily. At one point, this subfamily was considered inclusive with the Buteoninae (commonly known as buzzards or buteonine hawks) based probably on some shared morphological characteristics. However, research on the DNA of the booted eagles has shown that they are a monophyletic group that probably have had millions of years of separation from other extant forms of accipitrid.

Armadale Reptile Centre

The Armadale Reptile Centre is a zoological garden in Armadale, Western Australia that focuses on herpetology and wildlife endemic to Western Australia.

Opened to the public in 1995, the Armadale Reptile Centre houses a large variety of native reptiles and other wildlife with over 50 different species on display including various species of snakes, turtles and lizards as well as emus, parrots, wombats, dingos, bats and a wedge-tailed eagle. The Reptile Centre is also used as a rescue and rehabilitation facility for wildlife that are sick or injured.

Australian Defence Force Ensign

The Australian Defence Force Ensign is a flag of Australia which represents the tri-service Australian Defence Force. The flag was declared a "Flag of Australia" under Section 5 of the Flags Act 1953 on 14 April 2000.

The Royal Australian Navy and Air Force have ensigns, the Royal Australian Navy Ensign and the Royal Australian Air Force Ensign. The Army has historically used the Australian Flag. The Defence Ensign is supposed to be used in the case of joint activities. It is made up of three vertical bands: dark blue, red and light blue, representing the navy, army and air force respectively. In the centre is a large joint services emblem in yellow. This emblem features an anchor, crossed swords and a wedge-tailed eagle with wings outstretched combined above a boomerang and below a crest featuring a seven pointed Commonwealth Star.

The rank flags of staff with joint services commands, such as the Chief of Defence Force and the Minister for Defence, are derived from the Defence Force Ensign.


In Australian Aboriginal mythology, Bunjil is a creator deity, culture hero and ancestral being, often depicted as a wedge-tailed eagle (or eaglehawk). In the Kulin nation in central Victoria he was regarded as one of two moiety ancestors, the other being Waa the crow. Bunjil has two wives and a son, Binbeal the rainbow. His brother is Palian the bat. He is assisted by six wirmums or shamans who represent the clans of the Eaglehawk moiety: Djart-djart the nankeen kestrel, Thara the quail hawk, Yukope the parakeet, Lar-guk the parrot, Walert the brushtail possum and Yurran the gliding possum.


Carrion (from Latin caro, meaning "meat") is the decaying flesh of a dead animal or a dead human.

Coat of arms of the Northern Territory

The coat of arms of the Northern Territory is the official heraldic symbol representing the Australian territory. They were officially granted by royal warrant of Queen Elizabeth II on 11 September 1978. The arms, uniquely in Australia, incorporate all of the territory's floral, animal and bird emblems: the Sturt's desert rose (Gossypium sturtianum), red kangaroo (Megaleia rufa) and wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax).

Unlike other Australian states' arms, the Northern Territory's arms incorporate many reflections of the indigenous Australian culture and history: the shield itself is a representation of an Aboriginal painting and the crest shows the wedge-tailed eagle on top of a tjurunga, an Aboriginal ritual stone.

David Fleay Wildlife Park

David Fleay Wildlife Park is a heritage-listed wildlife park at Fleays Wildlife Park Conservation Park, Tallebudgera Creek Road, Tallebudgera, Queensland, Australia. It was built from 1952 to 1983. It is also known as Fleays Wildlife Park. It was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 23 February 2001.Established by Australian naturalist David Fleay in 1952, the Park today is home to many native animals, which are displayed in surroundings similar to their natural habitats. Managed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Park aims to raise community awareness about the need to protect native animals, especially rare and threatened species. The Park has a long tradition of breeding native animals and also includes an animal hospital for sick, injured and orphaned animals.

After investigating areas around Brisbane and South East Queensland, Fleay selected the Tallebudgera Estuary as a suitable site for a fauna reserve in late 1951. He acquired land there for a reserve in 1952, and added further parcels of land to the reserve in 1958 and 1965. Fleay's Fauna Reserve, as it was originally known, was established as a place of scientific research and education. Snakes, dingoes, scrub turkeys, ospreys, crocodiles and alligators lived at the sanctuary in "benevolent captivity", whilst bandicoots, flying foxes, the endangered eastern bristlebirds, white-breasted sea eagles, wallabies and koalas were free to come and go as they pleased. The Nocturnal house provides visitors the opportunity to view nocturnal animals such as the platypus, yellow-bellied glider, bilby and mahogany glider.In order to ensure the future survival of the sanctuary, David and Sigrid Fleay sold a large portion of the reserve (37 acres (15 ha)) to the Queensland Government in 1982, which became a Conservation Park. The main area of the Fauna Reserve housing the animals (20 acres (8.1 ha)) was also sold to the Government the following year. The remainder of the site (7.5 acres (3.0 ha)) was transferred to the Government in 1985. David and Sigrid Fleay continued to live at Fleay's Wildlife Park following the transfer of ownership, where David continued his research and kept animals, such as kangaroos, emus, cassowaries and his Galápagos tortoise, Harriet, largely in their original enclosures. The Park closed in 1983 for redevelopment, re-opening in 1988. David Fleay died on 7 August 1993. In October 1995, 7.4488 hectares (18.406 acres) of the site was gazetted as Fleay's Wildlife Park Conservation Park under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Qld) and today is operated by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service for the people of Queensland. The Park was renamed David Fleay Wildlife Park in 1997, in tribute to its founder.


Eagle is the common name for many large birds of prey of the family Accipitridae. Eagles belong to several groups of genera, not all of which are closely related. Most of the 60 species of eagle are from Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just 14 species can be found—2 in North America, 9 in Central and South America, and 3 in Australia.

Eaglehawk (disambiguation)

Eaglehawk is another name for the wedge-tailed eagle.

Eaglehawk may also refer to:

Eaglehawk, Victoria is a suburb of Bendigo, itself a part of the City of Greater Bendigo in Victoria, Australia

Eaglehawk Neck, an isthmus connecting the Tasman Peninsula to the Forestier Peninsula in Tasmania, Australia

Biraban, also known as Eagle Hawk

John Latham (ornithologist)

John Latham (27 June 1740 – 4 February 1837) was an English physician, naturalist and author. His main works were A General Synopsis of Birds (1781–1801) and General History of Birds (1821–1828). He was able to examine specimens of Australian birds which reached England in the last twenty years of the 18th century, and was responsible for naming many of them. These included the emu, sulphur-crested cockatoo, wedge-tailed eagle, superb lyrebird and Australian magpie. He was also the first to describe the hyacinth macaw. Latham has been called the "grandfather" of Australian ornithology.

List of Australian bird emblems

This is a list of Australian bird emblems.

Little eagle

The little eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides) is a very small eagle native to Australia, measuring 45–55 cm (17–21.5 inches) in length and weighing 815 g (1.8 lb), roughly the size of a peregrine falcon. It tends to inhabit open woodland, grassland and arid regions, shunning dense forest. It is a near relative of both the Palearctic booted eagle and the massive but now extinct Haast's eagle of New Zealand.

Savage River National Park

Savage River National Park is located in north-west Tasmania, Australia. Established in April 1999, it is the largest undisturbed area of temperate rainforest in Australia. Unlike other national parks of Tasmania, Savage River National Park remains inaccessible to the public, there is no road access or facilities in the park. It is buffered by the Savage River Regional Reserve which has limited 4WD access.The national park is dominated by cool temperate rainforest with extensive stands of myrtle beech dominated rainforest. A significant component of wet scrubland and buttongrass moorland dominate the Baretop Ridge. The park provides valuable habitat for many species of fauna including the Tasmanian devil, dusky antechinus, broad-toothed mouse, wedge-tailed eagle, swift parrot, grey goshawk and the giant freshwater crayfish.

Symbols of the Northern Territory

Northern Territory is one of the Australia's territories, and has established several territorial symbols and emblems.

Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle

The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax fleayi) is an endangered bird of Tasmania. It is a subspecies of the more common wedge-tailed eagle.

Wielangta forest

The Wielangta forest is in south-east Tasmania, Australia. It is notable for its role in a 2006 court case that called into question the effectiveness of Australia's cooperative Commonwealth-State forest management regime known as Regional Forest Agreements.

Willie wagtail

The willie (or willy) wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) is a passerine bird native to Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago, and Eastern Indonesia. It is a common and familiar bird throughout much of its range, living in most habitats apart from thick forest. Measuring 19–21.5 cm (7 1⁄2–8 1⁄2 in) in length, the willie wagtail is contrastingly coloured with almost entirely black upperparts and white underparts; the male and female have similar plumage.

Three subspecies are recognised; Rhipidura leucophrys leucophrys from central and southern Australia, the smaller R. l. picata from northern Australia, and the larger R. l. melaleuca from New Guinea and islands in its vicinity. It is unrelated to the true wagtails of the genus Motacilla; it is a member of the fantail genus Rhipidura and is a part of a "core corvine" group that includes true crows and ravens, drongos and birds of paradise. Within this group, fantails are placed either in the family Dicruridae, alongside drongos, or in their own small family, Rhipiduridae.

The willie wagtail is insectivorous and spends much time chasing prey in open habitat. Its common name is derived from its habit of wagging its tail horizontally when foraging on the ground. Aggressive and territorial, the willie wagtail will often harass much larger birds such as the laughing kookaburra and wedge-tailed eagle. It has responded well to human alteration of the landscape and is a common sight in urban lawns, parks, and gardens. It was widely featured in Aboriginal folklore around the country as either a bringer of bad news or a stealer of secrets.

Wyanbene Caves

Wyanbene is a geographic area between Braidwood and Cooma in Southern NSW, Australia. It includes a significant cave system and is adjacent to Deua National Park. The cave is at 35°47'42.25"S 149°40'56.48"E, at about 850 m altitude. A sheep and cattle farming area, there is still much wildlife including wombats, greater gliders, wedge-tailed eagle, echidna, eastern grey kangaroo, wallabies, red-bellied black snakes, tiger snake, Cunningham's skink, Platypus and native fish in the Wyanbene Creek and nearby Shoalhaven and Duea rivers.


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