© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Jouko Lehmuskallio, M., W. & F. von Wright: Pohjolan linnut värikuvin. Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.

White-tailed Eagle

Haliaeetus albicilla

  • Name also: Sea Eagle, Erne, White-tailed Sea-eagle
  • Family: Hawks – Accipitridae
  • Appearance: A very large eagle, with wide wings, a shortish tail, a long neck and a strong beak. In flight resembles a “flying carpet”.
  • Size: Length 76–94 cm (29.5–36.5 in), wingspan 190–240 cm (74–94 in), weight, male 3.8–4.2 kg (1.7–1.9 lb), female 4–6 kg (1.8–2.7 lb).
  • Nest: Very large nest made of sticks, typically near the top of a pine tree (though not usually right on the treetop like an Osprey’s nest), used for many years.
  • Breeding: 1–3 eggs (typically 2) laid from early April, incubated by both parents for 42–45 days, though only in brief spells by males. Young birds able to fly within 70–77 days. Wary and sensitive to disturbance during nesting. Young birds reach reproductive age within 5–6 years.
  • Distribution: Breeds along Finland’s coasts and around larger lakes and reservoirs in Finnish Lapland. Increased in numbers since the late 1970s; present population around 450 pairs.
  • Migration: Heads to wintering areas around the Baltic and North Seas Sept–Nov, returning April–May. Some birds winter in Finland, especially in the Åland Islands and the Southwestern Archipelago. Birds breeding near the Arctic Ocean also migrate through Finland.
  • Diet: Fish, birds and carrion.
  • Calls: A series of calls reminiscent of Herring Gulls’ cries.
  • Endangerment: Least concern. Protected in the whole of Finland including Åland Islands. Also nest trees are protected. Also globally Least concern.

White-tailed Eagles are huge birds with long, broad wings. Their tails are relatively short and wedge-shaped. They have large beaks and fairly long necks. Because of the rectangular profile of their long, broad wings, they are sometimes said to resemble huge “flying carpets” with a similarly scaled head and tail on either side.

Mature birds are generally uniformly brown, with yellowish heads and bright white tails. Juveniles are a darker reddish brown with black tips to their feathers. Their tails are dark, but may sometimes shine palely against the sky when seen from below. Juveniles have a narrow whitish stripe along their underwing coverts, and whitish axillary patches. Juveniles only gain their adult plumage at the age of 4–5 years. Younger adults resemble older birds, but the tips of their white tails may still be marked with a narrow dark band.

White-tailed Eagles of all ages have yellow legs. Older eagles’ beaks, ceres and irises are yellow. Juveniles have black beaks, greenish brown ceres and brown irises.

Finland’s White-tailed Eagle population declined steeply in the late 19th century due to persecution. Their numbers were lowest in the 1920s, but then recovered. Then in the 1960s and 1970s breeding problems due to toxic pollutants drove them to the brink of extinction in Finland, with breeding rates falling as low as 4 eaglets for the whole country. Thanks to the work of conservationists providing uncontaminated food to help the eagles through the winter, their numbers have risen again, making them a symbol of successful nature conservation.

Other species from the same family

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