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6

White-bellied Sea-Eagle

(Haliaeetus leucogaster)
< Alternate name(s): "White-breasted Sea-Eagle"; misnomer: "Eagle-hawk*"
Aboriginal name(s): "djilyon", "ngoolar" (WA); "konkon"

Size: 70-80 cm (male), 80-90 cm (female); wing span 1.8-2.2 m
Weight: 1.8-3 kg (male), 2.5-4.5 kg (female)
Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See White-bellied Sea-Eagle at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Not the photos you want? Or are you after even better quality? Have a look here .

ADULT

MALE

Pair of White-bellied Sea-Eagles perched in a dead tree; when seen individually, it would not be possible to tell the sexes apart - but when seen together, one can see that the male (here on the right) is smaller than the female (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Fraser Island, QLD, September 2018]

Dorsal view of a male White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Fraser Island, QLD, September 2018]

"Ohhhh, sh**! My brolly - quick!" (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Fraser Island, QLD, September 2018]

FEMALE

Lateral view of a female White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Fraser Island, QLD, September 2018]

PAIR

Pair of White-bellied Sea-Eagles perched in a dead tree; the female, on the left, is visibly taller and more massive than the partner (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Fraser Island, QLD, September 2018]

Sex unknown

Frontal view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Lady Musgrave Island, near Agnes Water, QLD, September 2017]

Frontal view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Lady Musgrave Island, near Agnes Water, QLD, September 2017]

Near-frontal view of an adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of E. Scott)
[Wiangaree Lagoon, Wiangaree, NSW, February 2017]

Close-up lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Lady Musgrave Island, near Agnes Water, QLD, September 2017]

Lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Daintree River, QLD, July 2018]

Close-up lateral/ventral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of J. Boettcher, FNQ Nature Tours)
[Kinrara Expeditions, QLD, March 2019]

Close-up near-dorsal view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle looking backwards (photo courtesy of J. Boettcher, FNQ Nature Tours)
[Daintree River, QLD, October 2020]

Frontal/ventral view of a soaring White-bellied Sea-Eagle
[Sawtell Lookout, Sawtell, NSW, January 2011]

Frontal/ventral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle that had taken up its position in an onshore updraft, patrolling the coastline
[Sawtell Lookout, Sawtell, NSW, January 2011]

Near-frontal view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle studying the photographer
[Old Bar, NSW, July 2013]

Ventral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle performing some running repairs to its plumage
[Sawtell Lookout, Sawtell, NSW, January 2011]

In this photo one can clearly see the translucent nature of the tail feathers of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle
(photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Lake Argyle, near Kununurra, WA, April 2018]

Lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle just after take-off (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Knuckey Lagoon, NT, October 2019]

Close-up lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight (photo courtesy of J. Boettcher, FNQ Nature Tours)
[Town Common, Townsville, QLD, July 2020]

Lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight, wings up (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Mandorah, NT, June 2018]

Lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight, wings down (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Mandorah, NT, June 2018]

Lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight
[Old Bar, NSW, July 2013]

Near-dorsal/ventral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle with a prominent alula
[Munmorah SCA, NSW, June 2011]

Adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle being harassed by a pair of Eastern Ospreys
[Old Bar, NSW, July 2013]

Adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle being harassed by an Eastern Osprey
[Old Bar, NSW, July 2013]

Lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle in the "company" of two model air planes and another, unidentified raptor
[Hunter Wetlands NP, NSW, July 2013]

Comparison between a White-bellied Sea-Eagle and a Wedge-tailed Eagle
[New Quipolly Dam, near Quirindi, NSW, October 2018]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Near-lateral/ventral view of an immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[St. Helens, TAS, September 2021]

Frontal view of a second-year immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight being harassed by two Australian Ravens
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, January 2024]

Frontal/ventral view of a second-year immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Atkinson Dam, QLD, March 2019]

Near-frontal/ventral view of a second-year immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight
[Old Quipolly Dam, Quirindi, NSW, April 2012]

Near-lateral view of a second-year immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, January 2024]

Lateral/ventral view of a second-year immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Leanyer Sewerage Ponds, Darwin, NT, July 2020]

Lateral/ventral view of a second-year immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight
[Wooroolin Wetlands, Wooroolin, QLD, June 2017]

Second-year White-bellied Sea-Eagle going into a nose dive
[Old Bar, NSW, July 2013]

Near-lateral view of a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Fraser Island, QLD, September 2018]

Near-lateral/ventral view of an adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle, right, with a juvenile (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Kakadu NP, NT, July 2020]

Near-dorsal view of a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Fraser Island, QLD, September 2018]

Near-dorsal view of a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Kakadu NP, NT, July 2020]

Lateral view of a first-year White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight
[NSW Central Coast, July 2013]

Near-dorsal/ventral view of a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle shortly after take-off (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Kakadu NP, NT, July 2020]

Dorsal view of a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle shortly after take-off (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Kakadu NP, NT, July 2020]

Ventral view of a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight
[Bundjalung NP, NSW, July 2010]

Ventral view of a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle in flight
[Bundjalung NP, NSW, July 2010]

Two juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagles having an argument about the ownership of a fish and in the process attracting the attention of an Australian Magpie (photo courteys of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Stott's Island rainforest, Tweed River, NSW, September 2016]

Breeding information

Breeding season: May - Sep Eggs: 1 - 2 Incubation period: 38 - 42 days Fledging age: 70 - 80 days

Although White-bellied Sea-Eagles are found all around the coastline of Australia, wherever they breed, they do it mainly in the tropical dry season, which corresponds to the southern winter/spring.

Nest building: ? Incubation: Female (male) Dependent care: Male & female

Twitcher's tip

Note that, by the time they fledge (i.e., leave their nest), the young of all species of raptors - apart from the tail and wing feathers (which are still growing) - are already full adult-size.

Nest

"bungobittah", "lar", "malunna", "jindi" [bundjalung] = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Basket Material: Sticks Height above ground: 10 - 50 m

Nests are usually high up and within sight of water. On cliff edges nests can be very high above the water's surface. Nests are often re-used for several years, during which they are enlarged and can become huge (up to 2 m wide and deep) and massive.

Overview of a massive White-bellied Sea-Eagle aery in a living eucalypt (photo courtesy of E. Scott)
[Near Kyogle, NSW, June 2017]

Closer view of a pair of White-bellied Sea-Eagles on their aery (photo courtesy of E. Scott)
[Near Kyogle, NSW, June 2017]

White-bellied Sea-Eagle on its aery with two near-fledging age young (photo courtesy of E. Scott)
[Near Kyogle, NSW, October 2017]

Overview of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle nest in a dead eucalypt
[Gum Swamp, Forbes, NSW, December 2016]

White-bellied Sea-Eagle on its nest (photo courtesy of S. Kirkby)
[Kakadu NP NT, June 2011]

White-bellied Sea-Eagle nest in an inland habitat (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Gwydir Wetlands, near Moree, NSW, November 2012]

This White-bellied Sea-Eagle nest, which was found far inland, is not used in years of drought, when there is no potential prey in the nearby Narran Lake
[Narran Lake NR, near Walgett, NSW, July 2014]

White-bellied Sea-Eagle in a tree on an island (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Lady Musgrave Island, near Agnes Water, QLD, September 2017]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "mirk", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena", "pum-pum" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 73 x 55 mm Colour: Creamy white Shape: Oval

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Sedentary/dispersive Elementary unit: Solitary/pair

Near-lateral view of a White-bellied Sea-Eagle in display flight near its nest; this is one of a pair whose calls were recorded on 1 July 2017
[New Quipolly Dam, near Quirindi, NSW, July 2017]

Like other raptors, White-bellied Sea-Eagles do not take kindly to intruders into their territories; here one is seen hustling a Wedge-tailed Eagle
[Marcquarie Marshes NR, near Quambone, NSW, April 2017]

Food, Diet

Adults: Fish, small animals Dependents: As adults Water intake: None

All raptors are carnivores. White-bellied Sea-Eagles prey mostly on fish, but will also take animals as large as (young) kangaroos and birds such as cockatoos. We have received reports of White-bellied Sea-Eagles preying on tortoises in inland waters and leaving behind a mess of leftovers under their favourite roosts.

During the first few weeks, raptors feed their chicks with pieces of meat. Later on in their development, the chicks learn to tear apart their parents' prey.

White-bellied Sea-Eagle with its catch, a fair-size sea snake (photo courtesy of M. Mearns)
[Karumba, QLD, September 2019]

Close-up lateral view of an immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle trying to catch a flying fox (photo courtesy of J. Boettcher, FNQ Nature Tours)
[Daintree River, QLD, March 2020]

White-bellied Sea-Eagle carrying its catch to a spot on land
[Limeburners Creek NP, NSW, October 2013]

Here a juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagle's victim
[Goran Lake, NSW, April 2011]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

The pair whose calls are linked below were observed chasing away an intruder/competitor near their nest.

wbseagl_20170701.m4a (NW NSW) Male/female duet at nest © MD
wbseagl_20170701_2.m4a (NW NSW) Male/female duet at nest © MD

More White-bellied Sea-Eagle sound recordings are available at xeno-canto.org .

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.