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White-bellied Sea Eagle
Haliaeetus leucogaster

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Stable.

Other Names: Gray-backed Sea Eagle, White-bellied Fish-eagle, White-bellied Sea-eagle, White-breasted Fish Eagle, White-breasted Fish Hawk, White-breasted Sea Eagle.

Haliaeetus leucogaster
click to enlarge
Distribution: Australasian/Indomalayan. INDIA and SRI LANKA east to southern CHINA, south through Southeast Asia, PHILIPPINES, WALLACEA, NEW GUINEA, and BISMARCKS to AUSTRALIA and TASMANIA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: A morphological analysis by Zimbelmann (1992), an allozyme analysis by Schreiber and Weitzel (1995), and molecular phylogenetic analyses by Wink et al. (1996), Seibold and Helbig (1996), and Lerner and Mindell (2005), confirmed that Haliaeetus is monophyletic with a close relationship to the milvine kites of the genera Milvus and Haliastur. The latter authors found that the southern sea eagle species, H. leucogaster, H. sanfordi, H. vocifer,, and H. vociferoidesH. leucogaster forms a superspecies with H. sanfordi (Helbig et al. 2005). The Sanford's Sea Eagle was probably derived from the White-belled Sea Eagle very recently, based on the small genetic distance (0.3%) between them (Helbig et al. 2005). This small amount of divergence is typically found at the intraspecific level, but Wink et al. (1996) argued that the two forms should be considered full species on the basis of their substantial differences in morphology and behavior.

Movements: Irruptive or local migrant, with juveniles dispersing from breeding areas (Bildstein 2006). In Australia, young leave their natal territory about four months after fledging and disperse up to 3,000 km (Debus 1998). Most coastal adults are sedentary, but the few breeding birds on southern inland rivers disperse to unknown areas during autumn and winter (Blakers et al. 1984).

Habitat and Habits: Frequents coastal areas, estuaries, and inland watered areas, including lakes, artificial reservoirs, rivers, and swamps, and adjacent terrestrial habitats throughout its large range. It is usually seen soaring over beaches and inland rivers and bodies of water in Australia (Olsen 1995) and New Guinea (Beehler et al. 1986). These eagles frequently perch in conspicuous locations overlooking the shore or a nearby lagoon and are seldom seen far away from water. Occurs singly, in pairs, or occasionally in family groups of three (Coates and Bishop 1997, Kennedy et al. 2000). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and small turtles, which it captures from the water surface. Also feeds on tideline offal and floating carrion, but rarely (Rasmussen and Anderton 2005). Occasionally preys on birds or fruit bats (Coates 1985, Coates and Peckover 2001, Kennedy et al. 2000), and other live prey includes rabbits, waterfowl, and seabirds up to the size of gulls, cormorants, and gannets, spiny poisonous fish, and sea snakes (Debus 1994). It is also an aggressive pirate, taking food from other raptor species, including Whistling Kites in Australia (Coates op cit., Olsen 1995) and Ospreys and Brahminy Kites in Malaysia (Wells 1999). Hunts by low-level quartering, usually within a kilometer from the surface, and food that is not being taken to a nest is usually eaten on the wing (Wells 1999). Madoc (1956) described this species dropping large crabs 30-40 m onto rocks to break them open. more....

Breeding: Pairs nest solitarily, and the large stick nest is lined with green twigs, leaves, grass, and seaweed. It is placed on the ground (on offshore islands), on a sheltered rocky cliff, from 3-40 m (usually >30 m) high in a tall dead or live tree, or even on a telephone pole (Debus 1998, Wells 1999, Kennedy et al. 2000). Communications pylons have been used as nest sites in Singapore and Malaysia (Wells op cit.). Some nests used for many years may grow up to 2 m wide and 3.5 m deep (Aylmer 1932, Taylor 1933, Dale 1965). The clutch size is usually 2 eggs (1-3), which are white and unmarked. The incubation period is about 40 days (Debus 1998), and the nestling period is 65-70 days in Australia (Debus op cit.), or up to 85 days in more northern localities. In Hong Kong, usually only a single chick survives, the result of cainism (Carey et al. 2001), but 34% of successful nests in Australia produced two young (Debus op cit.). The period of dependence after fledging lasts two or three months. more....

Conservation: Widespread and generally fairly common or common in most parts of its range. Not as common now in Australia, however, where it is categorized as Vulnerable in Victoria and Tasmania, Endangered in South Australia, rare in the Australian Capital Territory, and proposed as Vulnerable in New South Wales (Debus 2009). Declines have occurred from human disturbance, shooting, poisoning, loss of suitable breeding sites caused by the clearance of waterside forests, and possibly pesticides, especially DDT, and other pollutants (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In some areas, it has profited from the introduction of exotic species and the creation of rubbish dumps (Debus 1994). Categorized as a species of Least Concern by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) estimated the global population (defined as the number of adults and immatures at the start of the breeding season) in the range of 10,001 to 100,000. BirdLife International (2009) estimated the number of mature birds at only 1,000 to 10,000 individuals, but noted that the supporting data for any estimate are poor.

Important References: 

Debus, S.J.S. 1994. White-bellied Sea-eagle. Pp. 121 in del Hoyo, J., A.
  Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New
  World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Debus, S. 1998. The birds of prey of Australia: a field guide. Oxford
  University Press, Melbourne.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Lerner, H.R., and D.P. Mindell. 2005. Phylogeny of eagles, Old World
  vultures, and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.
  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37:327-346.
Marchant, S., and P. Higgins (eds.). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand,
  and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2. Raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press,
  Melbourne, Australia.
Naoroji, R. 2006. Birds of prey of the Indian subcontinent. Christopher
  Helm, London.
Olsen, P. 1995. Australian birds of prey. John Hopkins University Press,
  Baltimore, MD.
Wells, D.R. 1999. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, covering Burma
  and Thailand south of the eleventh parallel, Peninsular Malaysia and
  Singapore. Volume One. Non-passerines. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.

Sites of Interest:
White-bellied Sea Eagle photos.

Brown, Bill
Gregory, Tim
Hui, Etta
Ma, Ming
Olsen, Jerry
Olsen, Penny
Purwanto, Asman Adi
Varland, Dan

Last modified: 5/27/2010

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 May. 2020

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