|The Wedge Tailed Eagle is unique to Australia. It belongs to the same genus (Aquila) as the Golden Eagle. Wedge tailed eagles usually weigh in between 3.5 and 6 kg, and have wing spans of six to eight feet. The largest wedge tailed eagle on record was a Tasmanian bird (Aquila audax fleayii) with a wing span of just over nine feet.
Sadly, this magnificent raptor is still subject to persecution, both legal and illegal. It is the only eagle in the world which can still be shot under a damages licensing system which is still operating in Australia as an unfortunate legacy of less enlightened times.
In the past, the Wedge Tailed Eagle was falsely accused of being a sheep killer. CSIRO studies over the past two decades have exonerated the eagle, showing that less than 3% of its diet is made up of mutton, and that over 99% of that 3% is carrion, or animals which have died from other causes.
The Department of Agriculture removed the Wedge Tailed Eagle from its list of species which needed to be controlled in December 1999. Wildlife authorities in all States and Territories except for New South Wales and the Northern Territory continue to issue licenses to shoot eagles, and a culture still exists among a very small but often aggressively vocal minority of pastoralists that despite their technically protected status, eagles are vermin, and should be shot.
Thankfully, most pastoralists and graziers are now better educated than in the past, and are aware that the eagle carries out a role in the envionment which benefits farmers, since they clean up carrion and by doing so, remove breeding opportunities for flies. This keeps the fly population from increasing, in turn reducing the incidence of fly strike among stock.
The Society for the Preservation of Raptors takes the position that no member of the public should be allowed to shoot wildlife, and that in the event an individual feels they are suffering economic damage as a result of the natural activities of wildlife, then a full scientific assessment should be carried out by suitably qualified personnel, and any subsequent control measures such as trapping or shooting of wildlife should only ever be implemented by a wildlife officer or ranger.
"Charlie" the Wedge Tailed Eagle in this photograph, was rehabilitated and finally returned to the wild in mid-2004 after more than twenty years in captivity. She has been sighted several times since her release and by all reports, appears to be doing well. Wedge Tailed Eagles can live to be over sixty, and since Charlie was handed in as a baby, she could well have another forty years out there as a wild eagle.