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Sanford's Sea Eagle
Haliaeetus sanfordi

Status: Vulnerable

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Brown Fish Eagle, Brown Sea Eagle, Forest Fish Eagle, Sanford's Fish Eagle, Solomon Fish Eagle, Solomon Sea-eagle, Solomons Sea Eagle

Haliaeetus sanfordi
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Distribution: Australasian. Endemic to the PAPUA NEW GUINEA (Bougainville and Buka) and the SOLOMON ISLANDS. 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 species, H. leucogaster, H. sanfordi, H. vocifer,, and H. vociferoides), form a clade distinct from the northern members of the genus. 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 (Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004) and 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 size, morphology, and behavior, and they are followed here. Debus (2006) contended that sanfordi should be merged into H leucogaster), and this treatment may be followed by future authorities. more....

Movements: Non-migratory (Bildstein 2006).

Habitat and Habits: Frequents forest, coastal areas, and sea shores, but soars over all types of habitat (Coates 1985). Occurs from inshore waters and tidal flats to montane rainforest, but is most frequently encountered in coastal areas (Doughty et al. 1999). Usually seen singly, or in pairs. Sibley (1951) commented on the tameness of this species on New Georgia during his stay there in 1944-45. He often found it perched in forest, well below the crown of trees. Blaber (1990) did not find it in forested areas there, but rather along all shorelines, particularly where coconut trees formed a fringe. Diamond (1975) observed this species from the coast to 1,200 m at inland localities on Bougainville Island. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Debus (1994) emphasized that its feeding habits are actually like those of other members of the genus, although Mayr (1936) stated that this species feeds mostly on phalangers and large birds, principally pigeons, and not on fish and carrion, as is the case with H. leucogaster,. However, it does feed to some extent on pigeons, flying foxes, and phalangers (possums) (Coates 1985). Webb (1992) observed one feeding on the carcass of a shark on Fera Islands. Like other Haliaeetus species, this eagle kleptoparasitizes Ospreys. more....

Breeding: Little information, but courtship has been reported in June and August, and it probably builds a large stick nest placed in trees, possibly in mangroves (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). There are apparently no other recorded details on nesting behavior. more....

Conservation: Widely distributed and apparently common within its small insular range, but is thought to be declining as a result of habitat loss and persecution. Its principal threats are deforestation and other habitat disturbance, overfishing, pollution from logging, and, more recently (in defiance of traditional taboos), killing for food or sport and possibly because of a perceived threat to poultry and domestic animals (Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001). Categorized as Vulnerable by BirdLife International, but with the qualification that if purportedly distinct subpopulations are found to be smaller than 250 birds, or if movement between them indicates that there is only a single population, Endangered status would be warranted. more....

Population Estimates: Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) placed the global population (defined as the number of adults and immatures at the start of the breeding season) in the range of 101 to 1,000 individuals and suggested that the population is more likely to be in the middle to upper hundreds than in thousands. BirdLife International (2009) estimated the number of mature birds at 250 to 999 individuals, based largely on a density estimate obtained from the observation of two pairs by Buckingham et al. 1995).

Important References: 
BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened birds of the world. Lynx Edicions,
  Barcelona, Spain, and BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
Debus, S.J.S. 1994. Sanford's 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. 2006. Taxonomic status of Sanford's Sea-eagle. Boobook 24:8.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Olsen, J. 1997. Notes on Sanford's Sea-eagle Haliaeetus sanfordi and other
  raptors in the Solomon Islands. Australian Bird Watcher 17:81-86.
Pikacha, P., M. Sirikolo, D. Boseto, and C. Filardi. 2012. Ecological
  observations on Sanford's Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus (leucogaster) sanfordi.
  Australian Field Ornithology 29:149-159.
Sibley, C.G. 1951. Notes on the birds of New Georgia, central Solomon
  Islands. Condor 53:81-92.
Webb, H.P. 1992. Field observations of the birds of Santa Isabel, Solomon
  Islands. Emu 92:52-57.
Wink, M., P., Heidrich, and C. Fentzloff. 1996. A mtDNA phylogeny of sea
  eagles (genus Haliaeetus) based on nucleotide sequences of the cytochrome
  b-gene. Biochemistry and Systematic Ecology 24:783-791.
Wink, M., and H. Sauer-Gürth. 2000. Advances in the molecular systematics
  of African raptors. Pp. 135-147 in R.D. Chancellor and B.-U. Meyburg (eds.),
  Raptors at risk. World Working Group on Birds of Prey, Berlin, and Hancock
  House, Blaine, WA.
Wink, M., and H. Sauer-Gürth. 2004. Phylogenetic relationships in diurnal
  raptors based on nucleotide sequences of mitochondrial and nuclear marker
  genes. Pp. 483-495 in R. D. Chancellor and B.-U. Meyburg (eds.), Raptors
  worldwide. World Working Group on Birds of Prey, Berlin, and MME-BirdLife
  Hungary, Budapest, Hungary.

Legra, Leo

Last modified: 10/19/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2022. Species account: Sanford's Sea Eagle Haliaeetus sanfordi. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 23 Jan. 2022

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