Watching birds of prey, you involuntarily admire their power, lightning speed and incredible vigilance. The white-tailed eagle soaring in the air impresses with its noble, regal appearance. In addition to external features, such birds have many interesting nuances regarding their life activity. Let’s try to study in detail the way of life of white-tailed eagles, which can be called heavenly aristocrats with confidence.
Origin of the species and description
The white-tailed eagle is a feathered predator belonging to the hawk family, the hawk-like order and the genus of sea eagles. In general, all eagles are rather large predators. Their main difference from the eagles is the presence of a bare (without feather cover) tarsus. The underside of the bird’s fingers are equipped with small spikes to help hold slipping prey (mainly fish).
Ornithologists distinguish 8 varieties of eagles, among which is the white-tailed eagle we are considering. It is easy to guess that the bird is so named due to the fact that it has white tail feathers. The habitat of this species of eagles is always associated with open spaces of water, so this winged predator can be found near sea coasts, large river basins, and large lakes. It is not for nothing that in translation from ancient Greek the etymology of the word “eagle” stands for “sea eagle”.
Video: White-tailed eagle
The appearance of the white-tailed eagle is very similar to its American cousin, the bald eagle. Some ornithologists even combined them into one superspecies because of their similarity. You can still often see comparisons of the massive white-tail with the golden eagle. At present, scientists have not identified individual subspecies of the white-tailed eagle. These birds are majestic, proud and beautiful, therefore they are often depicted on postage stamps of different countries. As for our country, 4 species of eagles, including white-tailed eagles, have chosen its expanses.
An interesting fact: the white-tailed eagle in 2013 was chosen as the bird of the year according to the Russian Bird Conservation Union. This was done in order to draw people’s attention to the problems of protecting this feathered predator.
Appearance and features
The white-tailed eagle is quite massive, has a powerful physique, a high beak, long and wide wings and a tail that is slightly shortened in appearance. The coloration of males and females is completely identical, but the former are slightly smaller than females. The mass of males ranges from 3 to 5.5 kg, females – from 4 to 7 kg. The length of the body of an eagle varies from 60 to 98 cm, and its wingspan can be impressive in length (from 190 to 250 cm). These birds have well-pronounced bloomers made of feathers covering the lower legs; there is no plumage on the lower half of the tarsus. The bird’s paws themselves are very powerful, they have the sharpest, large, hook-shaped claws in their arsenal, which certainly will not miss the prey.
The color of the plumage in mature birds has a heterogeneous background, which can change from brown to fawn, this difference is noticeable due to the fact that the feathers at the base are darker, and their tops look lighter (burned out). Moving closer to the head area, the color of the eagle becomes light, almost whitish on the head itself. The coloring of the flight feathers, abdomen and bloomers is darker compared to the main bird background. The beautiful white tail is in contrast with the uppertail, undertail and wings.
The eyes of an eagle are not too large, and their iris can be:
- light brown;
- brownish brown;
For this reason, eagles are often called golden-eyed. The color of the bird’s limbs and the large hooked beak is also light yellow.
An interesting fact: The coloring of young animals is much darker than that of adult relatives. Their iris, tail and beak are dark grey. A row of longitudinal spots can be seen on the abdomen, and a marble pattern is visible on top of the tail. After each molt, young eagles become more and more similar to adult birds. Only when the birds become sexually mature do they begin to look the same as adult eagles. This does not happen before the age of five, and even later.
So, a mature eagle from other similar raptors is distinguished by the presence of a white tail and a light head, neck and beak. The perched eagle looks short-tailed, massive and slightly shapeless when compared to an eagle. Compared to the vulture, the head of the whitetail is larger. The white-tailed eagle is distinguished from the golden eagle by a shorter wedge-shaped tail and a more massive and higher beak.
Where does the white-tailed eagle live?
In Eurasia, the distribution area of the white-tailed eagle is quite extensive, it covers Scandinavia, Denmark, the Elbe Valley, reaching the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. Birds inhabit the Balkans, the Anadyr basin, Kamchatka, and also live on the Pacific coast of eastern Asia. In the north, the habitats of the sea eagle capture Norway, the Kola Peninsula (northern part), Timan tundra, Yamal (southern region), further the range extends to the Gydan Peninsula, approaching the mouths of the Pesina and Yenisei, inhabited by sea eagles of the Lena and Khatanga valleys. The completion of their northern range is the Chukchi Range, or rather, its southern slope.
In the more southern regions, white-tailed eagles have chosen:
- Greece and Asia Minor;
- northern Iran and Iraq;
- lower reaches of the Amu Darya;
- northeast China;
- the northern part of the Mongolian state;
- Korean Peninsula.
White-tailed eagles liked Greenland (western part), these birds of prey also live on the territories of other islands:
An interesting fact: In the north, the eagle is considered migratory, in the south and the territory of the middle zone – settled or nomadic. Juveniles from the middle belt go south in winter, while experienced and mature eagles remain to winter without fear that water bodies freeze.
As for our country, the resettlement of white-tailed eagles in its territories can be called ubiquitous. Most of the birds in terms of density are observed in the expanses of Baikal, the Sea of u200bu200bAzov and the Caspian Sea. Predators most often arrange their nests near large inland water bodies or on sea coasts, where they have a fairly rich food base.
What does the white-tailed eagle eat?
The menu of the white-tailed eagle, as it should be for this large bird, is predatory. It, for the most part, consists of fish dishes, it is not for nothing that this feathered bird is called the sea eagle. In terms of diet, fish is in the first place of honor; usually, eagles catch individuals no larger than three kilograms. Bird preferences are not limited only to the assortment of fish, forest game (both ground and feathered) is also to the taste of the eagles, and in the harsh winter period they do not disdain carrion.
Besides fish, the eagles enjoy snacking:
- mole rats;
- waterfowl (ducks, geese, loons);
- marmots (babaks);
- ground squirrels.
Hunting bird tactics are different, it all depends on one or another type of prey and its dimensions. The eagle can attack right during the flight, it is able to dive on the victim from above when it looks out for it in height. Birds tend to guard a potential victim in an ambush, they can also take away the prey they like from another more frail predator. Whitetails living in the steppe expanses guard ground squirrels, marmots and mole rats right next to their minks. The eagles grab the swiftly fleeing hares on the fly. The sea eagle frightens waterfowl and makes them dive.
Interesting fact: Eagles usually feed on sick, weakened and old animals. Eating dead and dead fish, birds clean up the expanses of reservoirs. Do not forget that they eat carrion, so they can be safely attributed to natural feathered orderlies. Ornithologists claim that white-tails perform the most important function of maintaining biological balance in the biotopes where they live.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
The white-tailed eagle is the fourth largest winged predator in European territory. Ahead of him are: griffon vulture, bearded vulture and black vulture. Whitetails are monogamous, in pairs they live for decades in the same territory, which can extend over a distance of 25 to 80 km. The family of eagles carefully protects its possessions from other competitors. In general, it is worth noting that the nature of these birds is quite severe, even with their cubs they don’t bother for a long time and immediately see them off to an independent life as soon as they start to fly.
When the eagles are hunting for fish, they vigilantly look out for prey and immediately dive down from above to pick it up with the help of sharp claws on their legs. A predator can even hide in the water surface for a split second in order to catch fish from the depths, I completely control this situation. In flight, eagles are not as spectacular and swift as falcons and eagles. Compared to them, they look more heavy, soar much less often. Their wings are blunt and have almost no curves characteristic of eagles.
The eagle sitting on a branch is very similar to a vulture, it also lowers its head and has a tousled plumage. The voice of the eagles is distinguished by a high, slightly rough scream. When the birds are disturbed by something, their call becomes more staccato with the presence of a kind of metallic creak. Sometimes a pair of eagles form a screaming duet. Birds simultaneously make calls while throwing back their heads.
Social Structure and Reproduction
As already noted, eagles are supporters of strong marriage bonds, forming a couple for life. A family bird couple always goes to spend the winter together in warmer climes and together returns to their native nest, this happens in March or April. The nest of eagles is a real family estate for birds, where they live throughout their lives, completing and repairing their homes, if necessary. Eagles choose nesting places on trees growing along lakes and rivers, or on cliffs and rocks, also located near water.
To build a nest, feathered predators use thick branches, and the bottom is lined with bark, thinner branches, tufts of grass, and feathers. Such a massive structure is always located on a large and strong bough or in the area of u200bu200bthe fork of the branches. One of the main conditions is the placement height, which can vary from 15 to 25 m, this protects the chicks from ground-based enemies.
Interesting fact: When the nesting place is just built, it does not exceed one meter in diameter, but over the years it becomes larger and heavier, gradually increasing a couple of times. Such a structure can easily collapse from its own weight, so whitetails often have to start building a new home.
The female can lay from 1 to 3 eggs, most often there are 2. The color of the shell is white, it may have buffy spots. The eggs are large enough to match the birds. They have a length of 7 – 8 cm. The duration of incubation is about five weeks. Chicks are born in May. For about three months, the parents take care of the offspring, which is in great need of their care. Already at the beginning of the last summer month, young eagles begin to fly, and towards the end of September they leave their parental focus, setting off for an adult, independent life, which in natural conditions can be from 25 to 27 years.
Fun fact: Surprisingly, white-tailed eagles in captivity can live for over 40 years.
Natural enemies of the white-tailed eagle
Due to the fact that the white-tailed eagle is a large and strong feathered predator with an impressive beak and tenacious claws, it has almost no ill-wishers in the wild. But this can only be said about mature birds, but newborn chicks, inexperienced young and eagle eggs are the most vulnerable and can suffer from other predatory animals that are not averse to eating them.
Sakhalin ornithologists have found that a large number of bird nests suffer from the paws of brown bears, this is evidenced by the presence of certain scratches on the bark of trees where eagles settle. There is evidence that in 2005, young bears destroyed about half of the bird dwellings, thereby destroying their offspring. Thieves’ raids on nests can also be made by representatives of the mustelid family, which also deftly move in the tree crown. Corvids can also harm the masonry.
Sadly, but one of the worst enemies of the eagles until quite recently was a man who, in the middle of the last century, began the targeted extermination of these majestic birds, considering them to be the main competitors for the possession of fish and muskrats. In this unequal war, a large number of not only adult eagles died, but also their clutches and chicks were destroyed. Now the situation has changed, people have counted white-tails among their friends.
All the same, the birds continue to suffer from human actions, falling into traps set by hunters for other animals (up to 35 birds die because of this in a year). Often, large influxes of tourist groups force birds to migrate to other territories, which negatively affects their livelihoods. It also happens that simple human curiosity leads to tragedy, because a bird immediately throws its masonry if a person touches it, but it will never attack a two-legged one.
Population and species status
The situation with the status of the white-tailed eagle population is ambiguous, somewhere it is considered a common species, in other areas it is vulnerable. In the vastness of Europe, the distribution of the eagle is considered sporadic, i.e. uneven. There is information that about 7,000 bird pairs nest in Russia and Norway, which is 55 percent of the total European bird population.
European data indicate that the number of pairs that actively breed varies from 9 to 12.3 thousand, which is commensurate with 18 – 24.5 thousand mature individuals. Ornithologists note that the number of white-tailed eagles is slowly, but still increasing. Despite this, there are many negative anthropogenic factors that have a detrimental effect on the existence of these mighty birds.
- degradation and drainage of wetlands;
- the presence of a whole range of environmental problems;
- cutting down large old trees where eagles prefer to nest;
- human intervention in natural biotopes;
- insufficient amount of food due to the fact that a person catches fish en masse.
It must be repeated and noted that in some regions and countries the eagles are vulnerable species of birds, therefore, they need specialized protection measures, which a person is trying to provide for them.
White-tailed eagle guard
As already noted, the number of white-tailed eagles in different territories is not the same, in some regions it is catastrophically small, in others, on the contrary, there is a fairly large concentration of winged predators. If we turn to the recent past, then in the 80s of the last century the number of these birds in European countries greatly decreased, but timely protective measures normalized the situation, and now eagles are not considered endangered.
The white-tailed eagle is listed on the IUCN Red List as “Least Concern” due to its extensive distribution range. On the territory of our country, the white-tailed eagle is also listed in the Red Book of Russia, where it has the status of a rare species. The main limiting factors include a variety of human activities, which lead to a decrease in suitable nesting sites, the elimination of various water sources, and the displacement of birds from inhabited areas. Due to poaching, the birds do not have enough food, they fall into traps, they die due to the fact that taxidermists make them stuffed. Eagles die from eating rodents poisoned by pesticides.
The main conservation measures that have a positive effect on the restoration of the bird population include:
- human non-interference in natural biotopes;
- identification of nesting places for eagles and their inclusion in the lists of protected areas ;
- protection of birds in the open spaces of sanctuaries and nature reserves;
- increase in fines for poaching;
- annual registration of wintering birds;
- organization of explanatory conversations among the population that a person should not approach a bird’s nest, even for the sake of curiosity.
In conclusion, I would like to add that even though the white-tailed eagle is powerful, great and strong, it still needs in human respect, care and protection. The greatness of these stately and noble birds delights, and their power, dexterity and vigilance inspire and give strength. Eagles bring a lot of benefits to nature, working as winged orderlies. It remains to be hoped that a person will be useful for these feathered predators, or at least not harm them.