Friday, 6 June 2014

Little Eagle

Animal of the Month


What's so special about it?

Little Eagle; Photo by 'Parks Victoria'
As its name suggests, Australia's Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides) is the smallest Eagle in the world, its maximum weight amounting to only one-fifth of the more familiar Wedge-tailed (Aquila audax) species. Yet despite its size, the Little Eagle is still a formidable predator of ground-dwelling mammals, particularly the introduced European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Originally, its diet would have consisted of bandicoots, small wallabies and other native marsupials, but as these creatures have been driven regionally or nationally to extinction, rabbits have become an essential food item instead. However, an unforeseen consequence of recent successful control measures against the rabbit is that populations of this impressive bird have also declined.

Where can I see one?

The Little Eagle is found right across Australia, showing a preference for lightly-wooded hills and inland ranges where it can search the ground for prey as it soars. Two recent sightings in the Brisbane area have come from the suburbs of Wacol and Hemmant, though these birds are likely to have just been passing through, and do not hold permanent territories in the area.


Is there anything similar near Brisbane?

Square-tailed Kite; Photo by Akos Lumnitzer
The Little Eagle can be confused with the similar - and much more common - Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus). Both birds have a pale panel towards the end of their long wings, but this panel is joined to the body by a thin pale strip in the case of the eagle, forming an 'M' shape. Square-tailed Kites (Lophoictinia isura) also have a pale panel in their wings, but their barred 'finger feathers' sets them apart from the black-tipped eagle. Both kite species also have a longer tail and wings than the eagle.

Little Eagle photograph courtesy of Parks Victoria and their Flickr stream.
Square-tailed Kite photograph by Akos Lumnitzer, from his excellent 'A Matter of Light' photography page.



18 comments:

  1. lovely raptors to see, especially to capture a photo in flight like both these photographers have - an extra buzz! Your posts are so well written Christian, I have to keep reminding you that. ps ...my next trip coming up soon is to Alice! I can hardly believe I'm taking that one on myself.

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    1. Thanks Carole, that's a really lovely compliment. I've never actually seen either of these species so I will try extra hard this year to find them!

      A trip to Alice sounds wonderful! I think almost every bird out there would be a 'lifer' for me, so I look forward to living vicariously through your photos :)

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    1. They are! The Little Eagle reminds me of your Red-tailed Hawk to look at.

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  3. Stunning birds Christian and really interesting about the rabbits. Here they frequent the fringes of the moor but no further. Perhaps with peat sitting on granite, they have nothing to burrow into!

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    1. Yes, ironically I've read that the good ol' European Rabbit is struggling a bit in Europe!

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  4. I suppose that our Rabbits would be a real problem to the farmers in your country, not to mention of course that it is not native. A real shame about the impact on the eagle though but if our rabbits took their breeding habits with them, they will be hard to eliminate.

    Good news (for now) about our Buzzards and Thank You for your support.

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    1. I was worried my 'support' was a little harshly worded! :)

      The real shame about the Eagle is that it used to have so many native mammals to eat. I think Australia has one of the highest recent mammalian extinction record of any country. Most people know that the Tassie Tiger is extinct, but there's a ton of tiny wallabies, rodents, bandicoots and other things gone too.

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  5. Hi Christian, a good write up about the eagles. Shame about them starting to decline in numbers though.
    I was reading about Akubra having to source rabbits (skins) from elsewhere for their hats because of the success of the control programme. We were travelling around Australia in our bus just before they released the calicivirus and, boy, the rabbits were in plaque proportions, particularly in outback SA. There's often unintended consequences isn't there.
    I'm always in awe of raptors and enjoyed viewing your photos. Cheerio for now :D)

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    1. Hi Susan, yes it's definitely a delicate balance! The rabbits are so destructive for most other species, so I guess control is necessary. I've seen old footage of the original rabbit plague and it was jaw-dropping! Glad you enjoyed reading and thanks for commenting :)

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  6. Gorgeous!!!
    Hope you can add your link this week!!

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    1. Thanks Anni! Sorry that I forgot to with this one, but will for the next, I promise! :)

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  7. Nice set of images - birds of prey can be a bit of a challenge at times!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Yep, my photos never turn out this good sadly!

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  8. Thanks for stopping by again Christian. Yes, it was the owl and i'm not over the moon about the shot. I've been back a couple of times. Joanne keeps seeing it but i don't!
    In answer to yor question. The loss of breeding waders is a culinmation of many years of declines caused by chnages to farming practices, intensification, predators and possibly global warming. As usual no one thing but a combination.

    Sounds sort of similar to your mammalian losses and all repeated throughout the world.

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    1. Yes that all sounds depressingly familiar, Phil! Thanks for the info - and don't be such a harsh critic when it comes to your own photos! :)

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  9. A very informative post Christian. My raptor count is sadly lacking.

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    1. Thanks Liz! Don't worry, I've never actually seen a Little Eagle either, though admittedly I'm still happy with my raptor records for 2014 thanks to the Black Falcon I saw last month!

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