Bird watcher’s Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle photo shows group’s vulture-like behaviour

Home Science Bird watcher’s Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle photo shows group’s vulture-like behaviour
Bird watcher’s Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle photo shows group’s vulture-like behaviour

An amateur photographer says he was in the right place at the right time when he captured nine wedge-tailed eagles in one shot.

James Hanslow was birdwatching in Tasmania’s Southern Midlands when he spotted a large group of the endangered raptors in a paddock.

“I’ve seen a family group of five before, but this was just a fluke,” he said.

“I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s pretty awesome.’

“I was in the right place at the right time and the sun was setting to give it that orangey glow. I was stoked.”

Mr Hanslow is a former sculptor and first started taking photos of eagles to get more realistic details of the birds for his art.

His son bought him a digital SLR camera last year so he could upgrade from a camera phone and said spotting eagles was a hobby.

“They are pretty impressive,” he said.

According to the latest statistics from the Tasmanian government, the total adult population of wedge-tailed eagles in the state is estimated at less than 1,000.

A close up of a wedge-tailed eagle in a dry brown paddock
Mr Hanslow takes photos of eagles as a hobby.(Supplied: James Hanslow)

The vulture role

Wildlife biologist Nick Mooney said it was uncommon to see a large group of eagles gathering, but had spotted up to 16 birds at once while conducting surveys.

He said eagle numbers were restoring in Tasmania and group sightings were becoming less rare.

“This is usually after breeding when the birds aren’t strongly territorial,” he said.

Mr Mooney said the group was a mixture of immature eagles and adults.

“All the birds from a particular catchment will gather in the one place where there’s a lot of food,” he said.

“Australia doesn’t have vultures, but the eagles will do partly the same job.

Mr Mooney said the eagles would be gathering because there was dead and dying native wildlife in the area, as well as stock.

He said wildlife could get toxoplasmosis and become weak, while stock could get perennial rye grass staggers during this time of year — a condition caused by eating a type of fungus.

“There’s a lot of dead animals and sick animals, and that’s very interesting to eagles,” Mr Mooney said.

A domino effect

Mr Mooney said when one eagle spotted a carcass or sick animal other tended to follow.

“If they are hunting they’ll be more dispersed because they don’t want competition,” he said.

“When they gather they puff themselves up and strut around on the ground to intimidate their neighbour.”

A dry grassy paddock with 5 eagles on a fence and one on the ground
Wildlife biologist Nick Mooney says the eagles are displaying vulture-like behaviour.(Supplied: James Hanslow)

Mr Hanslow said there were sheep in the area where he took the photo and he had noticed wool on the ground.

“It does look like they were feeding on something,” he said.

Mr Mooney said the juvenile eagles liked to get in on the action and learn from the older birds.

He said the gatherings occurred on a more grand scale on mainland Australia in groups of up to 40.

“I reckon it’s fantastic,” he said.

The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is a different subspecies but looks very similar to its mainland cousins.

Mr Mooney said white-bellied sea eagles also gathered in large groups when they were picking off fish and juvenile shearwaters, with sightings occurring in the north-west and at Port Davey.

Mr Mooney said the best spot to see multiple wedge-tailed eagles in Tasmania was at Lemont, east of Oatlands.

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