The wedge-tailed eagle can often be seen perching conspicuously on a dead tree, telegraph pole or rocky prominence, or soaring majestically on slightly upswept wings. Territorial individuals often soar high for long periods in display, and may swoop at intruders, even being aggressive towards hang-gliders and aircraft (2) (4).
This powerful bird of prey hunts a variety of terrestrial mammals, as well as some reptiles and birds. Where they are common, rabbits make up most of the wedge-tailed eagle’s diet, but it will also take wallabies, kangaroos, hares, possums, cats, dogs, foxes and young goats and lambs (2) (4) (5). This species’ reptile prey includes large lizards and occasionally snakes, and it may take birds such as crows, parrots, ducks and even herons, cranes and bustards (2) (4).
Carrion is also an important food source for the wedge-tailed eagle, particularly during winter or for younger birds which lack hunting experience (2) (5). Groups of up to a dozen or more wedge-tailed eagles have been known to gather at large carcasses, and this species may also steal food from other birds of prey (2) (4).
The wedge-tailed eagle typically seizes its prey from the ground, but it will also take it from the forest canopy, and sometimes even removes animals such as possums from tree hollows or takes young birds out of nests (2) (4). This powerful eagle is capable of taking prey several times its own weight, although most of its prey is much smaller than this. The wedge-tailed eagle sometimes hunts cooperatively in pairs or even in small groups (2) (4) (5).
Although immature wedge-tailed eagles are often gregarious, the adults are usually found alone or in pairs (2) (5), and are believed to mate for life (5). Breeding pairs of wedge-tailed eagles defend a territory (5), and often perform soaring displays that may culminate in rolling, touching talons, or steep dives followed by upwards swoops (2) (4). This species usually breeds between April and December, depending on the location (2). Populations in northern Australia have been recorded breeding in January and February (2), while those in Tasmania breed between August and September (5).
The wedge-tailed eagle builds a large stick nest, which after repeated use over many years may reach up to 2.5 metres across and nearly 4 metres in depth (2). The nest is typically built in a large tree, or sometimes on rocks, cliff edges, or even on the ground where trees are sparse. The adults often line the nest with green leaves and twigs (2) (4) (5). The pair’s territory may contain a number of nests, but usually one is favoured and is re-used each year. Wedge-tailed eagles often nest in traditional sites, with the same site being used for up to 50 years (5).
The female wedge-tailed eagle normally lays one to two eggs (2) (4), with one being more usual in the Tasmanian subspecies (5). The eggs are incubated by both adults for 42 to 48 days, and the young eagles fledge at about 70 to 95 days old (2). After leaving the nest, the juvenile wedge-tailed eagles remain dependent on the adults for a further three to six months (2) (4), after which the young birds disperse (4). The wedge-tailed eagle reaches sexual maturity at about three to five years old, but does not usually begin to breed for another year or two. This long-lived species may potentially reach 20 to 25 years old in the wild, and up to 40 years old in captivity (2) (5).