White-bellied Sea Eagle

Haliaeetus leucogaster
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
75–85 cm (29.5-33 in)
Wingspan:
178–218 cm (70-85.8 in)
Weight:
1800-3900 g (63.5-137.5 oz)
White-bellied Sea Eagle

MAT GILFEDDER

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Did You Know?

  • As in most raptor species, the female White-bellied Sea Eagle is larger than the male. However, she can be up to 20% larger in size and 120% larger in mass!
  • There are no subspecies of the White-bellied Sea Eagle
  • This eagle hardly ever spends time far away from water.  
  • Though it doesn't happen in every nest, researchers have documented cainism occurring in some nests. This is when one nestling (usually the bigger one) kills its sibling. 

 

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How The Peregrine Fund is Helping

Our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve birds of prey around the world. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation. We also run the Global Raptor Impact Network which gives raptor researchers tools to more efficiently conduct their own studies while contributing to a global program. GRIN also provides citizen scientists a way to participate in raptor science and conservation.

Where They Live

The White-bellied Sea Eagle has a relatively wide range in Asia and Australasia. It is found in India, Sri Lanka, Andaman Island, southern China, the Philippines, Wallacea, New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania, among other countries. Though its name implies it might only spend time around seas or oceans, this large raptor also can be seen soaring or hunting in and around many types of water bodies including coastal areas, estuaries, lakes, artificial reservoirs, rivers, swamps, and nearby terrestrial habitats. 

What They Do

Based on its name, you might think that a White-bellied Sea Eagle has a prominent white belly. And you would be right. It also has a dark gray back, dark eyes and beak, and a distinctive wedge-shaped tail. If you find yourself in White-bellied Sea Eagle territory, be sure to scan conspicuous perches near the shore of large water bodies. Don't forget to look up, too. They can be seen soaring above beaches, and are also found near large rivers or lakes further inland. You might also be surprised to learn that large groups, sometimes 40 or more, of these eagles gather together in groups at garbage dumps to feed on the waste materials they find there. 

Why They Need our Help

This eagle is categorized as Least Concern. In the past, the use of the pesticide DDT in Australia had a detrimental affect on this eagle's egg production. However, DDT is no longer being used there and is no longer causing problems. While this eagle is widespread throughout its range and is quite common, it is still facing some declines. Human disturbance, shooting, and poisoning are all threats this species faces. Additionally, as forests near water bodies are being destroyed, these eagles are losing important breeding sites. However, some human activities have benefited this species, including the introduction of exotic species and the creation of garbage dumps - which have become a food source for this eagle. 

What They Eat

Since this species spends most of its time near water bodies, it would stand to reason that it often feeds on aquatic species. It feeds heavily on fish, as well as sea snakes which it snatches from the surface of the water. It will also hunt mammals, such as rabbits and fruit bats, as well as birds - including waterfowl and cormorants, as well as small turtles, crustaceans, and more! Though not often, it has been known to feed on carrion from time to time. When on the hunt, this eagle flies relatively low over the ground or a water body, scanning for prey to seize. It will attack bats roosting in trees, and has been known to chase aquatic birds until they are exhausted.

But when it comes to food, the White-bellied Sea Eagle doesn't stop at merely hunting. It is known to aggressively pirate, or steal, food from other raptors including kites and Ospreys.  

Nests, Eggs, and Young

White-bellied Sea Eagle pairs build large stick nests, which they might construct high up in a tree, on a cliff ledge, on a telephone pole, or, in some cases, even directly on the ground.  Once the nest is built, the pair will line it with soft materials such as seaweed, grass, and leaves.

A lot of work goes into building a nest and some pairs will reuse the same nest over and over for many years. Rather than building a new nest, they will simply add new materials to the old nest. When this happens, the nests can grow quite large, measuring up to 2 m wide and 3.5 m deep!

When the time is right, the female will lay between 1-3 eggs, but she most commonly lays two. Over the next 40 days, the embryos inside the eggs will develop into healthy nestlings. Once they hatch, the eaglets will grow quickly. They will be ready to fly from the nest anywhere between 65 to 85 days or more after hatching. 

After the young have flown from the nest for the first time, they will remain in their parents' territory for two to three more months as gain the skills they need to hunt and survive on their own. 

White-bellied Sea Eagle and the World Center for Birds of Prey

Though far away from White-bellied Sea Eagle territory, The World Center for Birds of Prey is a great place to visit to  learn about raptors of all kinds. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with games, coloring sheets, quizzes and costumes await you. The visitor center has one live sea eagle species on display, a Bald Eagle. This is a great chance to see this eagle up close and learn about the wonderful and interesting adaptations it has in order to survive – some of which are very similar to those of the White-bellied Sea Eagle. There is also a touch table with bird feathers and other natural objects available for exploration. Come visit to learn more about all eagles, including the White-bellied Sea Eagle.

References:

Debus, S. and G. M. Kirwan (2020). White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.wbseag1.01

Global Raptor Information Network. 2022. Species account: White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 6 Apr. 2022