Last week I travelled from home in Murray Bridge to attend a meeting in Adelaide. I take the South-eastern Freeway and this takes me through the Adelaide Hills. I generally take quite an interest in the birds seen along the way, noting that more and more frequently I am seeing the wonderful Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos flying overhead.
On this occasion, however, I saw two – perhaps a pair – of Wedge-tailed Eagles soaring low over the freeway. This magnificent species – Australia’s largest eagle – is widespread throughout the country without being very common anywhere.
As is quite usual both birds were being harassed by other species, including Australian Magpies and Little Ravens. While they might be lovely birds, they are generally not loved birds; at least, not in the bird kingdom.
I was recently sorting through a few of my bird photos and came across this shot of a Willie Wagtail at one of the bird baths in our garden. Nothing unusual about that; they come most days for a drink or a bath.
What struck me about the photo was how evil the eyes of the harmless little Willie Wagtail can sometimes look, especially when enlarged like the shot above. It seems to be saying: ‘Don’t mess with me, buster.’
In reality, this species is known for its feisty attitude towards other bird species, especially any who dare come near to their nest or young. I have even seen one attacking our largest raptor, the Wedge-tailed Eagle. This eagle has a wingspan of about 280cm, whereas the little Willie Wagtail would be stretching to span 20cm. In fact, the Willie Wagtail is not slow at attacking a human, often swooping and even giving one a peck on the head for getting too close to the babies.
For comparison, I’ve included below the original photo before I enlarged it.
For over 26 years I’ve kept a month by month list of the birds seen in our garden, on our five acre block or flying overhead. In that time I’ve only recorded Wedge-tailed Eagles on a handful of occasions, despite the fact that they are relatively common and widespread in the region in which I live.
That seems to be changing recently. I saw one flying high over head a few weeks ago – read about it here. Then last Saturday we were entertaining some friends around our swimming pool when another one flew low over our neighbour’s garden. We had good views as it soared back and forth looking for a meal.
My latest sighting was yesterday morning. My wife was walking in our driveway and saw two Wedge-tailed Eagles soaring overhead. This is the first time I can recall seeing two at once over our place. They glided on the thermals for about five minutes before moving out of sight over the nearby hills. I had excellent views through my binoculars, but they were a little too far off for good photos. Instead, I’ve included a photo of a WT Eagle taken during the Free Flight Bird Show at Taronga Zoo in Sydney early last year.
Reflecting on these recent sightings I concluded that there may be a link between the appearance of these birds and rabbits. Until a year or so ago, we never saw any rabbits around here because of a virus. They have now become partially resistant to this virus and are breeding up in large numbers. We have several baby rabbits residing in our garden. This increased breeding has been aided by a much wetter than usual winter and spring last year, and there is still plenty of food available for them.
Now how do I encourage the eagles to visit regularly and partake of these meals on four legs?
I had to admit to my wife last week that I really enjoy hanging out the washing.
The reason is simple: it gets me outdoors, eyes cast skywards. Some of my best birding moments have occurred while hanging out the washing.
Last week was one of those moments. I had barely commenced when my attention was caught by a bird of prey high in the sky. It was obviously an eagle, slowly riding the air currents and circling overhead. I raced inside for the binoculars, sure that it was a Wedge-tailed Eagle. A more passes overhead confirmed my first identification.
This magnificent raptor – our largest bird of prey – is widespread all over Australia. It is widespread in our region too, but not common. Their territories are often huge, and they soar for many kilometres each day searching for their food. Despite them being relatively common in our region, this is only the third time in over 25 years I’ve observed one over our property. I need to get outdoors more often!
The nest of the Wedge-tailed Eagle consists of many sticks and twigs and can be reused many times in the lives of a pair. They will often refurbish the original nest, adding many more sticks until the structure is huge, sometimes large enough for a human adult to lie down in. The nearest nest I know of is about 20km NW of home near the Mannum waterfalls reserve.