- White-bellied sea eagles are a large bird of prey.
- They have a dark grey back with a white head, white chest and white belly.
- Their legs are also white and have long black claws.
- They have dark eyes and a light-coloured, hooked beak.
- When viewed in flight, the undersides of the wings are a distinctive half white and half grey-brown. The tail is also distinctively wedged-shape.
- Size: male- 76cm; female- 84cm
- Juvenile (first year) head buffish and ‘spiky’, contrasting with patchy cream and dark brown body and wings; underwing pattern also patchy, but note half-moon at base of taol feathers. Older juveniles have pale buff-grey tail.
- Nest: huge, of sticks; in tall live tree near water; on ground on island, remote coastal cliff
Hovers low over prey, or makes sloping power-dive from height or high perch to seize fish from surface; seldon enters water. Breeds May to August.
What to Observe
What to observe (record adult birds only):
- Presence of nest
- Presence of young
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
White bellied sea eagles are top predators in coastal areas and can often be seen hunting fish and small mammals along beaches, estuaries and sand dunes. Their presence may indicate a healthy coastal ecosystem with many food sources and foraging areas available.
When To Look
Throughout the year. Usually breeds Oct - April
Where To Look
- Usually found along coast lines, but can also be found inland around lakes, rivers and dams.
- Throughout Australia
Where To Look
Maps of Habitat Suitability
of occurrence (RCP 8.5)
|Species range change from
current to 2070 probability
Above, the left and middle maps show the modelled habitat suitability for the the species under current and potential future climate conditions. The colours indicate the predicted habitat suitability from low (white) to high (dark red).
The future habitat suitability is modelled for the year 2070 under a climate change scenario that represents 'business as usual' (RCP 8.5). The map on the right shows how the range of the species might change between now and 2070, with orange areas indicating where the species might disappear, green areas where the species range might expand, and blue areas where the habitat is predicted to be suitable for the species now and in the future.
The models for this species were run in the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory. Please note that while models can be very informative, they are only a representation of the real world and thus should always be viewed with caution. You can read more about the science behind these models here.
Slater, P. Slater, P. and Slater, R. (1988). The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. Lansdowne-Rigby Publishers NSW, Australia.
The white-bellied sea eagle looks similar to the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) but the eagle is much bigger and has a wedge shaped rather than fan shaped tail. It could also be confused with a black shouldered kite (Elanus notatus), but kites are much smaller (36cm) compared to the 76-84cm white-bellied sea eagle and have light coloured eyes
Did You Know?
Sea eagles are the second largest bird of prey in Australia, after the wedge-tailed eagle.
Sea eagles also eat carrion (dead prey), and can also be found eating road kill.
They can be seen harassing smaller birds forcing them to drop their foods they can steal it.
They pair up for life and are territorial.
They can also be found in China, India, South-east Asia, Indonesia and New Guinea.