Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - CAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Other EPBC Act Plans Threatened Tasmanian Eagles Recovery Plan 2006-2010 (Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources (AGDEW), 2006) [Recovery Plan].
 
Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by the European Red Fox (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2008zzq) [Threat Abatement Plan].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
 
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
 
State Government
    Documents and Websites
TAS:Haliaeetus leucogaster (White-bellied Sea-Eagle): Species Management Profile for Tasmania's Threatened Species Link (Threatened Species Section (TSS), 2014vk) [State Action Plan].
VIC:Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 Action Statement no. 60 - White-bellied Sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster (Clunie, P., 2003) [State Action Plan].
State Listing Status
SA: Listed as Endangered (National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (South Australia): June 2011 list)
TAS: Listed as Vulnerable (Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tasmania): September 2012 list)
VIC: Listed as Threatened (Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Victoria): May 2014 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Least Concern (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
VIC: Listed as Vulnerable (Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria: 2013 list)
Scientific name Haliaeetus leucogaster [943]
Family Accipitridae:Falconiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Gmelin,1788)
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucogaster.

Common name: White-bellied Sea-Eagle.

Other names: White-breasted Fish-Hawk, White-breasted Sea-Eagle (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The taxonomic status of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle is conventionally accepted (Christidis & Boles 1994; Peters 1931; Sibley & Monroe 1990).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is a large raptor that has long, broad wings and a short, wedge-shaped tail. It measures 75–85 cm in length, and has a wingspan of 180–220 cm. Females weigh between 2.8 and 4.2 kg, and are larger than the males, which weigh between 2.5 and 3.7 kg (Clunie 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The plumage of adult birds is predominantly white and grey. The head, breast and belly, and the feathering on the legs, are white. The back and upper surfaces of the wings are grey, although the wings have black tips. The undersides of the wings are greyish-black around the distal edges, with a smaller area of white along the leading edge. The tail is grey at the base, and has a white tip. The bill is bluish-grey with a blackish tip, the iris is dark brown, and the legs and feet are a cream colour (Clunie 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The juveniles differ from the adults in appearance in having predominantly dark brown plumage on the upper parts, except for the creamy colouring on the head, and creamy markings over the rest of the upper parts. The underside of the body is a similar colour to the upper parts, but becomes paler with wear. The under side of the wing is patterned with a mixture of orange-buff, white, dark brown and dark grey. There is a gradual transition from the brown and cream plumage of juvenile birds to the white and grey plumage of the adults. This transition is completed across a series of moults, over a period of several years (Clunie 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is generally seen singly or in pairs, though it may occasionally congregate around sites where food is abundant (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is distributed along the coastline (including offshore islands) of mainland Australia and Tasmania. It also extends inland along some of the larger waterways, especially in eastern Australia. The inland limits of the species are most restricted in south-central and south-western Australia, where it is confined to a narrow band along the coast (Barrett et al. 2003; Bilney & Emison 1983; Blakers et al. 1984; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Recent analysis indicates that the distribution of the sea-eagle may shift in response to climatic conditions, with an apparent decreased occupancy of inland sites (and increased occupancy of coastal sites) during drought conditions (Shephard et al. 2005a).

Breeding has been recorded from only a relatively small area of the total distribution. Breeding records are patchily distributed, mainly along the coastline, and especially the eastern coast, extending from Queensland to Victoria, and to Tasmania. Breeding has also been recorded at some sites further inland, e.g. around the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers in northern Victoria and south-west NSW, and at other large drainage systems and water storages (Marchant & Higgins 1993). Although known breeding sites are widely dispersed, the species could potentially breed throughout much of its range (Birds Australia 2006c, pers. comm.).

There have been no published estimates of the extent of occurrence, and no specific information is available on changes in the extent of occurrence. Although the sea-eagle has declined at some locations within its range, these declines appear more likely to have resulted in a reduction in the area of occupancy than in the extent of occurrence. No quantitative information is available on likely future changes in the extent of occurrence, but it is believed that the extent of occurrence is unlikely to decrease in the near future (P. Olsen 2005a, pers. comm.).

There have been no published estimates of the area of occupancy, and no specific information is available on changes in the area of occupancy. There is evidence to suggest that the area of occupancy may have declined since the arrival of Europeans, e.g. declines in local populations of the sea-eagle have been recorded in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. However, it is possible that the inland extent of the species (and, perhaps, the area of occupancy) may have increased since European settlement, due to (Bilney & Emison 1983; Clunie 1994):

(1) the stabilization of water levels in major rivers by weirs
(2) the construction of reservoirs and dams
(3) the introduction and proliferation of the European Carp (Cyprinus carpio), which is a favoured food item.

No quantitative information is available on likely future changes in the area of occupancy. However, it is believed that the area of occupancy could decline in future due to the increased development of coastal areas. The area of occupancy in inland and northern Australia is likely to remain stable, although moves to restore flows to rivers in south-eastern Australia could possibly benefit the sea-eagle (P. Olsen 2005a, pers. comm.).

No information is available on the number of locations in which the White-bellied Sea-Eagle occurs. The widespread and relatively continuous distribution of the species prevents an accurate estimate from being made.

Small numbers of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle are held in twelve zoos or institutions world-wide, including Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Queensland, Taronga Zoo in NSW, Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria, and Territory Wildlife Park in the Northern Territory (ISIS 2005). Some birds are also held for rehabilitation by a few private operators (P. Olsen 2005a, pers. comm.).

No population re-introductions have been attempted or proposed.

The distribution of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle is not severely fragmented (P. Olsen 2005a, pers. comm.).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is distributed from India and Sri Lanka, east to southern China, and south through South-East Asia, the Philippines, Wallacea and New Guinea (including the Bismarck Archipelago) to Australia (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993). There have also been several records from New Zealand, but these are all unconfirmed and are considered to be in error (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is not globally threatened (BirdLife International 2005e; del Hoyo et al. 1994). It is considered to be a common species throughout much of its range, and has an estimated global population of more than 10 000 individuals (including breeding and non-breeding adults, and immature birds). However, declines have been recorded in Australia, Thailand (where it is said to be 'uncommon' and 'much reduced') and elsewhere in south-east Asia (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001).

Based on speculative and conservative estimates of 500 or more pairs in Australia, and more than 10 000 individuals worldwide (including more than 2500 adult pairs, together with immature and non-breeding birds) (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001), it is estimated that approximately 10–20% of the global population of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle occurs within Australia.

It is not known whether any movement of birds occurs between the Australian and overseas populations. However, given the proximity of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to the northern Australian coast, and that sea-eagles are capable of making long-distance movements, and visit islands in the Torres Strait (Draffan et al. 1983), the possibility of exchange between Australian and overseas populations cannot be discounted.

No specific information is available on the threats to the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in South-East Asia, which is the only other region (aside from Australia) from which population declines have been recorded. However, the main threats to the species in South-East Asia are likely to be similar to those facing the species in Australia (loss of habitat due to land clearance, disturbance of nesting pairs by human activity, excessive mortality due to shooting and/or poisoning).

There have been few targeted surveys of White-bellied Sea-Eagle populations:

  • A survey conducted in South Australia between 1988 and 1994 located a total of 55 occupied breeding territories. The locations of these territories were mapped to estimate the breeding distribution of the species in South Australia (Dennis & Lashmar 1996).
  • On Kangaroo Island, South Australia, the population of White-bellied Sea-Eagles have been monitored from 1985 to 1995, and then again in 2005. An average of seventeen territories were loctaed, which represents approximately 30% of the South Australian breeding population (Dennis & Baxter 2006).
  • Between 2001 and 2003, 137 boat surveys were conducted at Jervis Bay, New South Wales to assess the distribution and abundance of the local sea-eagle population (Spencer & Lynch 2005).
  • Regular surveys are conducted in Victoria at Lake Wellington and its surrounding wetlands to monitor a small number of nest sites (Clunie 1994).

By applying a population density of one pair per 40 km to the entire length of the Australian coastline (approximately 20 000 km), and taking into account the various inland river systems occupied by the species, the total population size of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in Australia is estimated at more than 500 pairs. This estimate is likely to be of low reliability, and may significantly underestimate the size of the population (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001). For example, the population size in south-eastern Australia alone is estimated to number 410–430 pairs, based on the most recent estimates for Victoria (100 pairs) (Clunie 1994), Tasmania (200–220 pairs) (Olsen 1995) and South Australia (55 pairs, figure based on a total of 55 occupied territories) (Dennis & Lashmar 1996).

No specific information is available on the number of subpopulations. Some populations are geographically isolated. For example, the Tasmanian population is separated from the mainland populations by Bass Strait, and the South Australian population lies approximately 100 km or more from the nearest breeding territories in other states (Dennis & Lashmar 1993). However, these populations are not genetically isolated: the White-bellied Sea-Eagle is capable of undertaking long-distance movements (Dennis & Lashmar 1996; Marchant & Higgins 1993), and recent DNA studies have provided evidence for high levels of genetic exchange between sea-eagle populations in different regions of Australia (Shephard 2004; Shephard et al. 2005b).

The total population size of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle is likely to be declining, based on the data available (see below). Declines in local populations have been recorded in NSW (Bell 1983; Lindsey 1986; Marchant & Higgins 1993), Victoria (Bilney & Emison 1983; Drummond, undated; Quinn 1969), Tasmania (Mooney & Brothers 1986) and South Australia (Dennis & Lashmar 1996). The sea-eagle was formerly 'found in good numbers along the Murray River' (Hobbs 1961), but is now rarely recorded in the Sunraysia district or in the adjacent districts of south-western NSW (Drummond, undated; Hayward & MacFarlane 1971; Lindsey 1986). In South Australia, where a statewide survey has been conducted, it is estimated that the population may have declined by more than 40%, based on a comparison between contemporary and historical records (Dennis & Lashmar 1996). Conversely, populations in the northern and remote tropical regions of Australia appear to be stable (Dennis & Lashmar 1996; Hollands 2003).

Declines in local populations of White-bellied Sea-Eagle are likely to be more widespread than the available records indicate. For example, although declines in Victoria have been recorded only in the Gippsland Lakes Region, at Phillip Island and in the Sunraysia district (Bilney & Emison 1983; Drummond, undated; Quinn 1969), the species is likely to have declined over much of its coastal range in Victoria due to the clearing of coastal forests for agricultural and urban expansion (Clunie 1994).

Though the total population is, at present, thought to be declining, inland populations of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle may have increased following European settlement due to the increased availability of water bodies (stabilization of water levels in major rivers by weirs; construction of reservoirs and dams) and the introduction of non-native food sources, such as European Carp (Cyprinus carpio) (Bilney & Emison 1983; Clunie 1994).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is not known to undergo extreme natural fluctuations in population size, extent of occurrence or area of occupancy.

The generation length of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle has not been estimated. However, it is likely to be in the vicinity of 15 years, as has been estimated for the similarly-sized Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

No specific populations have been identified as being critical to the long-term survival and recovery of the species.

The Atlas of Australian Birds Database records the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in 301 conservation reserves throughout Australia since 1998 (n=1943 records). Ten reserves have had 30 or more records of the species since 1998: Lake Innes Nature Reserve, NSW (n=118 records); The Lakes National Park, Victoria (n=95); Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory (n=85); Lakefield National Park, Queensland (n=82); Myall Lakes National Park, NSW (n=51); Eurobodalla National Park, NSW (n=47); Bowling Green Bay National Park, Queensland (n=37); Croajingolong National Park, Victoria (n=31); Bundjalung National Park, NSW (n=30); and South Bruny National Park, Tasmania (n=30) (Atlas of Australian Birds 2006).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is found in coastal habitats (especially those close to the sea-shore) and around terrestrial wetlands in tropical and temperate regions of mainland Australia and its offshore islands. The habitats occupied by the sea-eagle are characterised by the presence of large areas of open water (larger rivers, swamps, lakes, the sea). Birds have been recorded in (or flying over) a variety of terrestrial habitats (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The species is mostly recorded in coastal lowlands, but can occupy habitats up to 1400 m above sea level on the Northern Tablelands of NSW and up to 800 m above sea level in Tasmania and South Australia (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

Birds have been recorded at or in the vicinity of freshwater swamps, lakes, reservoirs, billabongs, saltmarsh and sewage ponds (Boekel 1976; Favaloro 1944; Gosper 1981; Marchant & Higgins 1993). They also occur at sites near the sea or sea-shore, such as around bays and inlets, beaches, reefs, lagoons, estuaries and mangroves (Abbott 1982; Boekel 1976; Favaloro 1944; Gosper 1981; Smith 1985).

Terrestrial habitats include coastal dunes, tidal flats, grassland, heathland, woodland, forest (including rainforest) and even urban areas (Bell 1984a; Czechura 1984a; Harris 1980; Johnson & Hooper 1973; Longmore 1978; Quinn 1969; Roberts & Ingram 1976; Smith 1984).

Breeding has been recorded on the coast, at inland sites, and on offshore islands (Marchant & Higgins 1993). Breeding territories are located close to water, and mainly in tall open forest or woodland (Emison & Bilney 1982; Marchant & Higgins 1993), although nests are sometimes located in other habitats such as dense forest (including rainforest) (Rhodes 1959), closed scrub or in remnant trees on cleared land (Emison & Bilney 1982).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle generally forages over large expanses of open water; this is particularly true of birds that occur in coastal environments close to the sea-shore, where they forage over in-shore waters (Marchant & Higgins 1993; Smith 1985). However, the White-bellied Sea-Eagle will also forage over open terrestrial habitats (such as grasslands) (Marchant & Higgins 1993; Sedgwick 1978).
Birds may move to and congregate in favourable sites during drought or food shortage (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001; Marchant & Higgins 1993; Shephard et al. 2005a).

There are no published sources that state that the White-bellied Sea-Eagle occurs in any threatened ecological communities. However, given the widespread distribution of the species, its ability to make long-distance movements, and the broad range of habitats that it may be recorded in or flying over, it is possible that the sea-eagle may occur in one or more of the threatened communities listed under the EPBC Act 1999.

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is not known to associate with any other listed threatened species.

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle first breeds at approximately six years old (Fleay 1948; Marchant & Higgins 1993). The mortality rate is high amongst newly-independent young birds, but if juveniles survive to breeding age they may live for up to 30 years (PWS Tas 2006).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle breeds in solitary and monogamous pairs that mate for life. However, if one member of the pair dies, it is quickly replaced (Clunie 1994; Favaloro 1944; Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The breeding season extends from June to January (or sometimes February) in southern Australia, but begins one or two months earlier in northern Australia, for example, eggs are laid from June to September (or sometimes later) in southern Australia, and from May to August in northern Australia (Bilney & Emison 1983; Favaloro 1944; Marchant & Higgins 1993). The nest is a large structure composed of sticks and lined with leaves, grass or seaweed (Favaloro 1944; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Nests may be built in a variety of sites including tall trees (especially Eucalyptus species), bushes, mangroves, cliffs, rocky outcrops, caves, crevices, on the ground or even on artificial structures (Abbott 1982; Bilney & Emison 1983; Cupper & Cupper 1981; Emison & Bilney 1982; Favaloro 1944; Marchant & Higgins 1993; Whitlock 1919). Pairs usually return to the same breeding territory each year, and often the same nest, although territories tend to contain one or two additional, less developed nests (Favaloro 1944; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Breeding pairs tend to be widely dispersed, and are generally separated by distances of several kilometres or more (Bilney & Emison 1983; Clunie 1994; Fleay 1948; Garnett & Bredl 1985; Marchant & Higgins 1993), though on offshore islands pairs may be located quite close together. On Barrow Island, Western Australia, seven occupied nests were located within a radius of 9.5 km (Whitlock 1919).

The eggs of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle are white or dull white in colour (Cupper & Cupper 1981; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Clutches usually consist of two eggs, but can be between one and three eggs (Marchant & Higgins 1993). The eggs are incubated for approximately six weeks (Bilney & Emison 1983). Most incubation is done by the female (P. Olsen 2005a, pers. comm.). The nestlings, which are fed by both parents, remain in the nest for 65–70 days or more (Brown & Amadon 1968; Cupper & Cupper 1981). The fledged young are fed by the adults for up to three months after leaving the nest. They are then driven out of the breeding territory by their parents approximately four months after fledging (Hollands 2003).

Little information is available on breeding success. In the Gippsland Lakes region, Victoria, from 1978 to 1981, of 37 active sea-eagle nests observed, eight (22%) fledged no young, 19 (51%) fledged one young and ten (27%) fledged two young. Productivity was greater in native vegetation (forest, woodland, scrub) than it was in pastures with scattered tall trees, for example, sea-eagles fledged 1.2 young per occupied territory in tall open forest and 0.2 young per occupied territory in pasture (Bilney & Emison 1983). At Kapalga, in the Northern Territory, in 1981, only two of 13 pairs were successful in producing young (Marchant & Higgins 1993). In clutches where two eggs are laid, usually only one young is fledged (Cupper & Cupper 1981; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Pairs will lay a second clutch if the first is unsuccessful (Favaloro 1944).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle feeds opportunistically on a variety of fish, birds, reptiles, mammals and crustaceans, and on carrion and offal (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001; Marchant & Higgins 1993; Rose 2001a).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle hunts its prey from a perch, or whilst in flight (by circling slowly, or by sailing along 10–20 m above the shore). When a prey item is located, the sea-eagle usually launches into a dive or shallow glide to snatch its prey, usually in one foot, from the ground or water surface (Clunie 1994; del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Prey is usually carried to a feeding platform or (if small) consumed in flight, but some items are eaten on the ground (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001; Marchant & Higgins 1993). In addition to these behaviours, the White-bellied Sea-Eagle will sometimes steal prey from seabirds and other raptors, and it has also been recorded following harvesters and dolphins to feed on flushed prey (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001; Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is described as a breeding resident throughout much of its range in Australia (Marchant & Higgins 1993). Breeding adult birds are generally sedentary (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001; Marchant & Higgins 1993), although they forage over large areas (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001) and are capable of undertaking long-distance movements (Marchant & Higgins 1993). They can also move in response to drought or a shortage of food (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001; Marchant & Higgins 1993; Shephard et al. 2005a).

Conversely, immature birds, and also some adult birds, undertake dispersal (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Immature birds are capable of travelling extremely long distances: one banded immature bird moved from its natal territory at Cowell, South Australia to Fraser Island, Queensland, a distance of approximately 3000 km (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

Some birds (including some adults) may travel inland along major rivers (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Birds also occasionally visit inland lakes, rivers or reservoirs that occur outside of the usual distribution of the species (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle breeds in pairs. Each pair defends a breeding territory (primarily against other sea-eagles, particularly immature birds, and Wedge-tailed Eagles), which consists of a small area around the nest (Hollands 2003; Marchant & Higgins 1993). Though breeding territories may be occupied throughout the year (Hollands 2003), at least some adults will leave their nest sites (usually when young depart the nest) for a time and, consequently, leave their territories unguarded (Favaloro 1944; Marchant & Higgins 1993; Tarr 1962).

Home ranges occupied by the White-bellied Sea-Eagle can be up to 100 km² (Mooney & Brothers 1986). Within these home ranges, breeding territories are typically located close to bodies of water (Emison & Bilney 1982; Marchant & Higgins 1993).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is readily detected. The birds are large and conspicuous, and are easily sighted when they partake in soaring flights in search of prey. Their nests are also large and conspicuous (Birds Australia 2006c pers. comm.).

Adult and older immature birds are unlikely to be mistaken for any other species. However, juvenile and young immature birds (that have browner plumage) could be confused with the Wedge-tailed Eagle, or possibly with the Black-breasted Buzzard (Hamirostra melanosternon) (Marchant & Higgins 1993).

Populations of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle can be surveyed by performing systematic searches (area searches, line transects) for birds or nests. Searches can be conducted from the ground or air, or from a boat (Dennis & Lashmar 1996; Emison & Bilney 1982; Spencer & Lynch 2005). No information is available on the preferred time(s) and/or conditions for surveys, or on the recommended survey effort.

The main threats to the White-bellied Sea-Eagle are the loss of habitat due to land development, and the disturbance of nesting pairs by human activity (Bilney & Emison 1983; Clunie 1994; Dennis & Lashmar 1996; Mooney & Brothers 1986).

The clearance of habitat (especially nesting habitat) and the subsequent influx of human populations have been implicated in past declines in sea-eagle populations in NSW, Victoria and South Australia (Bell 1983; Bilney & Emison 1983; Clunie 1994; Dennis & Lashmar 1996; P. Olsen 2005a, pers. comm.; Quinn 1969). Land clearance reduces the amount of suitable habitat available to the sea-eagle, and this can force birds to nest in sub-optimal habitats where their breeding success is greatly reduced (Emison & Bilney 1982; Bilney & Emison 1983). The intensity and spread of coastal development is, presumably, likely to increase in future, as is the resultant pressure on White-bellied Sea-Eagle habitat and, subsequently, the sea-eagle itself.

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is sensitive to disturbance when nesting, especially during the early stages of the breeding season, and may desert nests and young if confronted by humans or exposed to human activity (Clunie 1994; Hollands 2003; Mooney & Brothers 1986; Stokes 1996). The disturbance of nesting pairs by human activity can thus lower breeding success, and has been associated with some local population declines, for example, abandoned territories on the Eyre Peninsula and far west coast of South Australia were located in areas that had been developed for tourism or that contained recreational sites accessible by vehicles (Clunie 1994; Dennis & Lashmar 1996; Mooney & Brothers 1986). Abandonment of nesting sites on Kangaroo Island also followed developments in the areas (Dennis & Baxter 2006). The frequency and intensity of disturbance is likely to increase in future as human populations continue to expand and increase in density.

Potential threats to the White-bellied Sea-Eagle include poisoning, shooting, competition with Wedge-tailed Eagles, and the deterioration of inland water resources.

Poisoning could occur through the ingestion of baits intended for other animals (dogs, foxes), or through the ingestion of poisoned prey items (rabbits) (Barnett 1980; Bilney & Emison 1983; Clunie 1994; Favaloro 1944). The poisons most likely to be encountered by sea-eagles are pesticides (1080, DDT) and heavy metals (mercury, lead). For example, 1080 has been attributed to the deaths of some sea-eagles in Australia (despite the fact that raptors are generally thought to have a low susceptibility to 1080) (Clunie 1994), organochlorine pesticides (DDT) have been recorded in low to moderate (and apparently benign) levels in sea-eagles and their prey in South Australia (Falkenberg et al. 1994), and mercury has been found in high concentrations in some prey items (mullet, European Carp) in south-eastern Victoria (Clunie 1994; Glover et al. 1980; Smith 1976).

The ingestion of poisons can lead to direct mortality (Barnett 1980; Clunie 1994; Mooney & Hunt 1983) or, as demonstrated in populations of closely-related raptor species overseas, reduce breeding success (Newton 1979). The historical and current impacts of poisoning upon Australian populations of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle are unknown (Clunie 1994), although a study has shown that the thickness of sea-eagle eggs has decreased since the introduction of DDT into agricultural practices Australia in 1946 (Olsen et al. 1993). The impact of pesticides is likely to be of less significance in future, given that the use of DDT has been banned in Australia since 1987 (although metabolites continue to persist in the environment, and will do so for several years) (Clunie 1994; Falkenberg et al. 1994), and that contemporary 1080 baiting programs aim to minimise the risk of secondary poisoning (Clunie 1994). However, the likely future impacts of heavy metal contamination are unknown.

Shooting is known to be a cause of mortality (Clunie 1994; Favaloro 1944; Lamm 1965; Mooney & Hunt 1983), and is claimed to have been the cause of declines in some local populations in South Australia (Dennis & Lashmar 1996). Like the Wedge-tailed Eagle, the White-bellied Sea-Eagle sometimes feeds on domestic livestock (sheep, goats, chickens) (Marchant & Higgins 1993), which could make it a target for persecution (shooting, poisoning) by farmers (Mooney & Hunt 1983). The historic, current and future impacts of shooting upon the White-bellied Sea-Eagle are unknown. However, the current and future impacts of shooting on the population as a whole are likely to be minor given that the White-bellied Sea-Eagle is, as a native species, protected by national and state legislation.

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle has a similar diet, and nests in similar sites, to the Wedge-tailed Eagle. Competition for resources between the two species could be having an adverse affect on some sea-eagle populations (Clunie 1994; Spencer & Lynch 2005). An increase in competition for nesting habitat between the White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Wedge-tailed Eagle has been recorded in Tasmania in recent years, and this has caused breeding failures in both species (Spencer & Lynch 2005). The impact of resource competition upon the long-term survival of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle is not known. However, it is possible that the incidence and intensity of competition may increase in future if the nesting habitat used by these species is subject to further clearance and development.

The presence and persistence of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in inland locations depends on access to substantial bodies of water, e.g. the inland distribution of the species is limited to sites that occur in the vicinity of major waterways or waterbodies. Processes that affect the quality or availability of inland water systems (such as increased sediment input into rivers and streams due to erosion, drainage of wetlands for agriculture, flood mitigation works) could, potentially, have adverse effects on inland populations of the sea-eagle (Clunie 1994). However, the actual historical and current impacts, and likely future impacts of these processes, are unknown.

Inbreeding (and its consequent effects on genetic variability) had been identified as a potential threat to the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in Victoria, on the basis of the population size numbering 100 pairs or less (Clunie 1994). However, recent DNA studies have shown that neither the Victorian population nor other small populations (such as Tasmania) are genetically isolated, and that a high degree of gene flow exists between sea-eagle populations in different regions of Australia (Shephard 2004; Shephard et al. 2005b).

Collision with wind turbines have also been identified as a potential threat to the White-bellied Sea-Eagle. Raptors are thought to be at higher risk of collision due to their tendancy to make flights in the swept area (Renewable Energy Pty Ltd Hobart 2007a). However, a number of studies have found that the risk of collision is extremely low, with birds avoiding the swept area of the turbine blades in over 99% of cases (Biosis Research 2007; Renewable Energy Pty Ltd Hobart 2007b; Smales 2005a).

There are also occasional records of birds drowning after becoming entangled in fishing nets (Clunie 1994; Favaloro 1944).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is not known to be especially susceptible to any catastrophic threats. Severe drought could possibly lead to declines in some inland populations, but the mobility of the birds should allow them to abandon these sites and then return again once conditions improve (Olsen 2005a pers. comm.).

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is a long-lived species that is capable of surviving for up to 30 years in the wild (PWS Tas 2006). Because of this longevity, it is possible that past or current declines in reproductive success may only become apparent when the current generation of mature birds has expired (Clunie 1994).

Based on the major threats to the species, the long-term survival of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in Australia depends primarily upon the retention of existing habitat (especially nesting habitat) and the protection of nesting sites from interaction with humans or human activity (Clunie 1994; Dennis & Lashmar 1996).

In Victoria, few management actions were undertaken prior to the production of an action statement for the species in 1994. These preliminary management actions included the monitoring of a small number of nest sites at Lake Wellington and its surrounds, in the Gippsland Lakes region (Clunie 1994).

The following management actions were proposed in the 1994 action statement (Clunie 1994):

  • The protection of suitable habitat (and especially known nesting sites) on public land, including the establishment of 'buffer zones around nest sites to limit disturbance by humans or human activity.
  • The introduction of annual, broad surveys to (1) monitor known nest sites, (2) locate new nest sites, (3) determine breeding success and trends in populations, and (4) determine areas of critical habitat.
  • The completion of a population viability assessment once the necessary information became available.
  • Liaison with various bodies including land managers, forest planners, conservation agencies and research bodies to promote the conservation of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle and the consideration of the species when planning and conducting operations.
  • The introduction of a public awareness program to (1) educate the public about the sea-eagle and its status, (2) promote the conservation of the species, and (3) encourage members of the public to report sightings of sea-eagles to the appropriate authorities, including state and federal agencies.
  • Encourage further research on the diet of the sea-eagle, including if possible an investigation into food chain contamination by heavy metals and its affect on the species.

In addition to these actions, the action statement (Clunie 1994) also raised the need to determine the genetic status of the Victorian population, and to establish whether inbreeding is a potential threat to the species. Research on mitochondrial DNA has shown that inbreeding is unlikely to threaten the Victorian population, with evidence for high levels of gene flow between populations in different regions of Australia, including Victoria (Shephard et al. 2005b).

Recovery strategies for the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in Tasmania are outlined in the Threatened Tasmanian Eagles Recovery Plan 2006–2010 (AGDEW 2006). Recovery objectives include:

  • Increase the proportion and number of nests found prior to (rather than during) development on all tenures, including, but not restricted to forestry operations and land clearance.
  • Reduce the proportion of nests subject to disturbance.
  • Identify human-induced causes of breeding failure and mitigate against such causes.
  • Increase breeding success.
  • Increase the number and/or density of active territories.
  • Develop and apply protocols for effective eagle management during all land development.
  • Monitor the implementation and effectiveness of management prescriptions.
  • Implement prescriptive nest reserves for conserving nesting habitat.
  • Identify new threats and implement strategies for their mitigation.
  • Reduce the occurrence of eagle mortalities and injuries (in number and proportion), particularly those attributable to human activities.
  • Engage the electricity industry in reducing the proportion of eagle collisions and electrocutions.
  • Undertake research into eagle biology that targets improved species management.

Studies on breeding and nesting have been published by Bilney and Emison (1983), Emison and Bilney (1982), and Shephard and colleagues (2004).

Studies on distribution have been published by Dennis and Lashmar (1996), Favaloro (1944), Shephard (2004), Shephard and colleagues (2005a), and Spencer and Lynch (2005).

A conservation genetics study was published by Shephard and colleagues (2005b).

Recommendations for the management of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in Victoria are listed in Clunie (1994), and the species is featured in the Threatened Tasmanian Eagles Recovery Plan 2006–2010 (DPIWE 2006).

The Brisbane City Council has also prepared a Coastal Raptors Conservation Action Statement to asssist with the management of these species in that area (BCC 2005).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Mortality due to capture, entanglement/drowning in nets and fishing lines Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006mz) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Hunting and Collecting Terrestrial Animals:illegal control Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006mz) [Internet].
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human induced disturbance due to unspecified activities Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006mz) [Internet].
Natural System Modifications:Dams and Water Management/Use:Alteration of hydrological regimes and water quality Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006mz) [Internet].
Pollution:Pollution:Pollution due to oil spills and other chemical pollutants Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006mz) [Internet].
Residential and Commercial Development:Residential and Commercial Development:Habitat modification (clearance and degradation) due to urban development Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006mz) [Internet].
Species Stresses:Indirect Species Effects:Low genetic diversity and genetic inbreeding Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006mz) [Internet].
Species Stresses:Species Stresses:unspecified Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006mz) [Internet].

Abbott, I. (1982). Birds recorded on 22 tropical islands of Western Australia. Corella. 6:119-122.

Atlas of Australian Birds (2006). Unpublished data from ongoing atlas database.

Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources (AGDEW) (2006). Threatened Tasmanian Eagles Recovery Plan 2006-2010. [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tasmanian-wedge-tailed.html.

Australian Legal Information Institute (2005). China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement. [Online]. www.austlii.edu.au.

Barnett, P.F. (1980). Notes from King Island. Tasmanian Naturalist. 60:10.

Barrett, G., A. Silcocks, S. Barry, R. Cunningham & R. Poulter (2003). The New Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Birds Australia.

Bell, H.L. (1983). Forty years of change in the avifauna of a Sydney suburb. Australian Birds. 18:1-6.

Bell, H.L. (1984a). Bathing by the White-bellied Sea-Eagle. Australian Birds. 18:82.

Bilney, R.J. & W.B. Emison (1983). Breeding of the White-bellied Sea-eagle in the Gippsland Lakes Region of Victoria, Australia. Australian Bird Watcher. 10:61-68.

Biosis Research (2007). Comparison of potential collision risk for birds of four different wind turbines for Flinders Island, Tasmania. Report submitted to the Department of the Environment and Water Resources, Canberra.

BirdLife International (2005e). Species factsheet: Haliaeetus leucogaster. [Online]. www.birdlife.org.

Birds Australia (2006c). Personal communication, January 2006.

Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies & P.N. Reilly (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.

Boekel, C. (1976). Ten months on Gove Peninsula. Australian Bird Watcher. 6:231-245.

Brisbane City Council (BCC) (2005). Coastal Raptors Conservation Action Statement. [Online]. Brisbane: Brisbane City Council. Available from: http://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/bccwr/environment/documents/conservation_action_statement-coastal_raptors.pdf.

Brown, L. & D. Amadon (1968). Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of the World. Feltham, Middlesex, U.K: Country Life.

Christidis, L. & W.E. Boles (1994). The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union Monograph 2. Melbourne, Victoria: Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.

Clunie, P. (1994). Flora & Fauna Guarantee Action Statment No 60 - White-bellied Sea-eagle. [Online]. Available from: http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/web%2Froot%2Fdomino%2Fcm_da%2Fnrenpa.nsf/frameset/NRE+Plants+and+Animals?OpenDocument.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (2005). Appendices. [Online]. www.cites.org.

Cupper, J. & L. Cupper (1981). Hawks in Focus: A study of Australia's Birds of Prey. Mildura, Victoria: Jaclin Enterprises.

Czechura, G. (1984a). Notes on an insular raptor community. Sunbird. 14:15-19.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal, eds. (1994). Handbook of Birds of the World. In: Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Dennis, T.E & C.I Baxter (2006). The Status of the White-bellied Sea-eagle and Osprey on Kangaroo Island in 2005. South Australian Ornithologist. 35:47-51.

Dennis, T.E. & A.F.C. Lashmar (1996). Distribution and abundance of White-bellied Sea-Eagles in South Australia. Corella. 20:93-102.

Draffan, R.D.W., S.T. Garnett & G.J. Malone (1983). Birds of the Torres Strait: an annotated list and biogeographic analysis. Emu. 83:207-234.

Drummond, R. (Ed.) (1985b). Victorian Bird Report 1985. Melbourne: Bird Observers Club.

Emison, W.B. & Bilney, R.J. (1982). Nesting habitat and nest site characteristics of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria, Australia. Raptor Research. 16:54-58.

Falkenberg, I.D., T.E. Dennis & B.D. Williams (1994). Organochlorine pesticide contamination in three species of raptor and their prey in South Australia. Wildlife Research. 21:163-173.

Favaloro, N. (1944). The White-breasted Sea-eagle along the Murray Valley. Emu. 43:233-242.

Ferguson-Lees, J. & D.A. Christie (2001). Raptors of the World. London: Christopher Helm.

Fleay, D. (1948). Notes on the White-breasted Sea-eagle. Emu. 48:20-31.

Garnett, S. & R. Bredl (1985). Birds in the vicinity of Edward River Settlement. Part II. Discussion, references, list of Passerine birds. Sunbird. 15:23,25-40.

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/birds2000/index.html.

Glover, J.W., G.J. Bacher & T.S. Pearce (1980). Heavy Metals in Biota and Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes. Ministry for Conservation, Victoria, Environmental Studies Series Publication 279.

Gosper, D.G. (1981). Survey of birds on floodplain-estuarine wetlands on the Hunter and Richmond Rivers in northern NSW. Corella. 5:1-18.

Harris, J.G.K. (1980). Birds of the Sullivans Cove area, City of Hobart. Tasmanian Naturalist. 60:1-6.

Hayward, J.L. & MacFarlane, N. (1971). Bird predators and a mouse plague. Australian Bird Watcher. 4:62-66.

Hobbs, J.N. (1961). The birds of south-west New South Wales. Emu. 61:21-55.

Hollands, D. (2003). Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of Australia. Second Edition. Melbourne: Bloomings Books.

International Species Information System (ISIS) (2005a). Locations of captive populations. [Online]. www.isis.org. [Accessed: 08-Nov-2005].

Johnson, H.R. & N. Hooper (1973). The birds of the Iron Range area of Cape York Peninsula. Australian Bird Watcher. 5:80-95.

Lamm, D.W. (1965). Seasonal counts of birds at Lake George. Emu. 64:114-128.

Lindsey, T.R. (1986). New South Wales Bird Report for 1984. Australian Birds. 20:97-132.

Longmore, N.W. (1978). Avifauna of the Rockhampton area, Queensland. Sunbird. 9:25-53.

Marchant, S. & P.J. Higgins, eds. (1993). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 2 - Raptors to Lapwings. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Mooney, N. & N. Brothers (1986). Sea eagles' greatest problem is nest disturbance, says NPWS. Fintas. 9:39-41.

Mooney, N.J. & Hunt, M. (1983). Raptor mortality in Tasmania. Australasian Raptor Association News. 4 (2):7-8.

Newton, I. (1979). Population Ecology of Raptors. Vermillion, South Dakota, USA: Buteo Books.

Olsen, P. (1995). Australian Birds of Prey. Sydney: University of NSW Press.

Olsen, P. (2005a). Australian National University. Personal Communication.

Olsen, P.D, P. Fuller & T.G. Marples (1993). Pesticide related egg-shell thinning in Australian raptors. Emu. 93:1--11.

Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania (PWS Tas) (2006). White-bellied Sea-Eagle fact sheet. [Online]. www.parks.tas.gov.au.

Peters, J.L. (1931). Check-list of Birds of the World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Quinn, D.J. (1969). The White-breasted Sea-Eagle in Western Port, Victoria. Australian Bird Watcher. 3:162-165.

Renewable Energy Pty Ltd, Hobart (2007a). Woolnorth Bluff Point Wind Farm Behaviour of Birds Around Turbines Final Report. Roaring 40s Renewable Energy Pty Ltd, Hobart. Woolnorth Bluff Point Wind Farm Final Report (W.B.P.W.F.).

Renewable Energy Pty Ltd, Hobart (2007b). Woolnorth Bluff Point Wind Farm Eagle Observations (16/11/2006 - 18/02/2007) Final Report. Roaring 40s Renewable Energy Pty Ltd, Hobart. Woolnorth Bluff Point Wind Farm Final Report (W.B.P.W.F.).

Rhodes, C. (1959). Nesting of the White-breasted Sea-Eagle. Emu. 59:221-222.

Roberts, G.J. & G.J. Ingram (1976). An annotated list of the land birds of Cooloola. Sunbird. 7:1-20.

Rose, A.B. (2001a). Supplementary records of the food of some terrestrial non-passerines in New South Wales. Australian Bird Watcher. 19:60-68.

Sedgwick, E.H. (1978). A population study of Barrow Island avifauna. West Australian Naturalist. 14:85-108.

Shephard, J.M. (2004). A multi-scale approach to defining historical and contemporary factors responsible for the current distribution of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster (Gmelin, 1788) in Australia. Ph.D. Thesis. Brisbane: Griffith University.

Shephard, J.M., C.P. Catterall & J.M. Hughes (2004). Discrimination of sex in the White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Haliaeetus leucogaster, using genetic and morphometric techniques. Emu. 104:83-87.

Shephard, J.M., C.P. Catterall & J.M. Hughes (2005a). Long-term variation in the distribution of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) across Australia. Austral Ecology. 30:131-145.

Shephard, J.M., J.M. Hughes, C.P. Catterall & P.D. Olsen (2005b). Conservation status of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster in Australia determined using mtDNA control region sequence data. Conservation Genetics. 6:413-429.

Sibley, C.G. & B.L. Monroe (1990). Distribution and Taxonomy of the Birds of the World. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Smales, I. (2005a). Modelled cumulative impacts on the White-bellied Sea-eagle of wind farms across the species' Australian range. Report for the Department of Environment and Heritage. [Online]. Melbourne:Biosis Research Pty Ltd. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/pubs/wind-farm-bird-risk-whitebelliedseaeagle.pdf.

Smith, G.C. (1985). Analysis of prey remnants from Osprey Pandion haliaetus and White-bellied Sea-eagle Pandion leucogaster feeding roosts. Emu. 85:198-200.

Smith, G.J. (1976). Mercury in Carp Cyprinus carpio and Sediments in Some East Victorian Waters. Hons. Thesis. Monash University.

Smith, P. (1984). The forest avifauna near Bega, New South Wales I. Differences between forest types. Emu. 84:200-210.

Spencer, J.A. & T.P. Lynch (2005). Patterns in the abundance of White-bellied Sea-Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) in Jervis Bay, south-eastern Australia. Emu. 105:211-216.

Stokes, T. (1996). Helicopter effects upon nesting White-bellied Sea-Eagles and upon smaller birds at an isolated protected location (Eshelby Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia). Corella. 20:25-28.

Tarr, H.E. (1962). Observations on the White-breasted Sea-Eagle. Australian Bird Watcher. 1:194-197.

Whitlock, F.L. (1919). Notes on birds breeding in Dampier Archipelago, NW coast of Australia. Emu. 18:240-253.

EPBC Act email updates can be received via the Communities for Communities newsletter and the EPBC Act newsletter.

This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Haliaeetus leucogaster in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Sat, 20 Sep 2014 04:50:02 +1000.