White-tailed Eagle

Anne-Marie Bokslag

Haarlem, Netherlands

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The end of October I did a workshop photographing White-tailed Eagles in Stepnica, Poland.

The White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla, also known as the Sea Eagle, Erne (sometimes Ern), or White-tailed Sea-eagle, is a large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which includes other raptors such as hawks, kites, and harriers. It is considered a close cousin of the Bald Eagle and occupies the same ecological niche, but in Eurasia.

The White-tailed Eagle is a very large bird. It measures 69–95 cm (27–37 in) in length with a 1.82–2.44 m (6.0–8.0 ft) wingspan. Females, typically weighing 4–6.9 kg (8.8–15 lb), are slightly larger than males, which weigh 3.1–5.4 kg (6.8–12 lb). The record weight was 7.5 kg (17 lb) for a specimen from Scotland, while a more recent huge female from Greenland reportedly spanned 2.53 m (8.3 ft) across the wings. The White-tailed Eagle is sometimes considered the fourth largest eagle in the world. It has broad “barn door” wings, a large head and a thick “meat-cleaver” beak. The adult is mainly brown except for the paler head and neck, blackish flight feathers, distinctive white tail, and yellow bill and legs. In juvenile birds the tail and bill are darker, with the tail becoming white with a dark terminal band in sub-adults..

Some individuals have been found to live over 25 years, 21 years on average.

This large eagle breeds in northern Europe and northern Asia. The largest population in Europe is found along the coast of Norway. The World population in 2008 stands at only 9,000 – 11,000 pairs. They are mostly resident, only the northernmost birds such as the eastern Scandinavian and Siberian population migrating south in winter.

Small disjunct resident populations occur in southwesternmost Greenland and western Iceland. The former has been proposed as a distinct subspecies groenlandicus based on their very large size and body proportions. However, the species is now considered monotypic and the size variation is clinal according to Bergmann’s Rule. A recent genetic study of mitochondrial DNA is consistent with this idea. Greenlandic white-tailed eagles are, on evolutionary time scales, a relatively recently founded population that has not yet accumulated a lot of unique genetic characteristics. However, the population appears to be demographically isolated and deserves special protection.

The White-tailed Eagle forms a species pair with the Bald Eagle. These diverged from other sea eagles at the beginning of the early Miocene (c. 10 mya) at the latest, possibly (if the most ancient fossil record is correctly assigned to this genus) as early as the early or middle Oligocene, about 28 mya ago.

As in other sea-eagle species pairs, this one consists of a white-headed (the Bald Eagle) and a tan-headed species. They probably diverged in the North Pacific, spreading westwards into Eurasia and eastwards into North America. Like the third northern species, Steller’s Sea Eagle, they have yellow talons, beaks, and eyes in adults.

On the IUCN redlist of Least Concern

Canon EOS 7D
Canon EF 300mm f/4.0L IS USM
Exposure time 1/3000s
Aperture value f/4
ISO 200
Focal length 300 mm

Artwork Comments

  • Hans Bax
  • AnnieSnel
  • Ellen van Deelen
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  • spetenfia
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