White-tailed Eagle

Haliaeetus albicilla

With a wingspan of 2.5m, the White-tailed Eagle is the largest European eagle species. Using their broad, "fingered" wings, these majestic birds of prey can soar for long periods of time at great heights. The species winters in the Danube-March wetlands, the Seewinkel area in Burgenland, and in the northern Waldviertel ("Forest Quarter"). As a breeding bird, the White-tailed Eagle became extinct in Austria some decades ago. Several conservation organisations have made great efforts on behalf of reintroduction. In recent years, smaller numbers have successfully bred in the Danube wetlands, raising hopes that the eagle will once again inhabit the area throughout the year. However, tragic headlines involving the poaching and/or poisoning of eagle individuals continue to haunt all who care about these magnificent birds.

Description
In flight, adults may be identified by their broad wings with black "fingered" feather tips, yellowish-brown head, and wedge-shaped white tail. The White-tailed Eagle can also be differentiated from other raptors through its enormous body size. Adults are brown, have a yellow bill and a white tail. Juveniles are black-brown, have a black bill and dark tail-feathers.

Distribution
In Austria, solely to winter, above all in the Danube-March wetlands and in the Seewinkel area and the northern Waldviertel. Thanks to rigorous conservation requirements and comprehensive campaigns to promote the species, the White-tailed Eagle is more often sighted in neighbouring countries to the east and north. Breeding experiments in Austria have given reason to hope that a year-round population may be able to establish itself.

Endangerment and Conservation Status
Species is endangered by illegal use of poisonous bait and other traps used by hunters, as well as general destruction of habitat. In the neighbouring countries, rigorous protection measures have led to the stabilisation or even increase in populations.

Behaviour
White-tailed Eagles hunt both from perches and while soaring in flight. They prey on fish swimming near the surface (e.g. pike) and waterfowl. One frequently sees two eagles hunting together, managing even to hunt waterfowl which have dived below the surface in a – vain – effort to flee. Occasionally, cormorants lose their booty to White-tailed Eagles. Because these birds also consume carrion, they are especially vulnerable to toxic bait illegally laid out by hunters. From around the middle of February, one to two eggs are laid. The young hatch after incubating for approximately 37 days, and are old enough to fly at around 10 weeks.

Special Characteristics
White-tailed Eagles build huge eyries which may be used for nesting for many years as long as they remain undisturbed. In the Donau-Auen National Park, all management measures are carefully coordinated with breeding times in order to ensure the least possible disturbance of the area during this critical phase.