Bunjil – the Australian Wedge-Tailed Eagle

Wedge tailed eagle

Across the Australian skyline, there is no sight more majestic than the Wedge Tailed Eagle, the country’s largest raptor. Easily identifiable by its large, diamond-shaped tail, this beautiful bird of prey uses the wind currents to soar the skies in search of food. This search for prey is made that much easier by the bird’s binocular vision. It allows the eagle to easily spot its prey from heights of up to 2000m and they are able to accurately assess distances, making for a quick and efficient hunt. They have an incredibly varied diet. It is not uncommon for these birds of prey to catch rodents, rabbits, snakes or even wallabies. When working as a pair, they are able to easily kill a red kangaroo, using their sharp talons to pierce the skull and cause instant death.

This magnificent raptor is a highly sought-after animal among wildlife photographers. It’s bold facial features, strikingly large 2m wingspan and heavily feathered legs make it a star catch for photography. Being a diurnal (daylight) species, it is relatively easy for the budding photographer to capture a shot of this astonishing animal. During the breeding season of June to August, it is possible to take mesmerizing photos of these birds performing aerial acrobatics. They do this with their partner to advertise their territory to other breeding pairs. This behavior also helps to maintain their bond as Wedge Tailed Eagles mate for life.

For Australia’s indigenous populations, eagles feature heavily in their astronomy and traditions. They are also prominent in Aboriginal dreaming stories. For example, the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains have a constellation taking the form of an eagle’s claw. This is the constellation Wilto. For the Dja Dja Wurrung and Kulin people of Central Victoria, the eagle Bunjil is an important creator being. Bunjil is represented by the star Altair, found in the Aquila constellation.

Unfortunately, for all its worship and admiration, the Wedge Tailed Eagle has also faced immense persecution. In 1928 Western Australia began offering bounties for their destruction due to the belief that they killed farmers’ lambs and even adult sheep. Between 1928 and 1966 tens of thousands were shot or poisoned across Australia. This practice was only outlawed when it was proven that the eagles only attack sick, injured or dead lambs.

In modern times, the Wedge Tailed Eagles biggest threats are those caused by man. Forest clearing destroys the eagles’ nests and vastly reduces the resources and availability of new nesting spots. Since Wedge Tailed Eagles build on top of the same nest every year, tree clearing has had a devastating effect on the eagle population. These beautiful birds are also at risk of indirect poisoning from Dingo baits and secondary poisoning by eating rabbits laced with Pindone.

These photos of wedge-tailed eagles were taken at the Alice Springs Desert Park and Healesville Sanctuary.  I can never pass up an opportunity to get up close 🙂

Date: December 27, 2019