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What Is the White-Tailed Eagle?

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  • Written By: Bethney Foster
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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The white-tailed eagle is a native raptor of northern Europe and northern Asia. A large bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle, also known as the sea eagle and the erne, can stand up to 3 feet (91 cm) tall and weigh as much as 15 pounds (7 kg). Even more impressive is the bird's wingspan, which can be as wide as 8 feet (2.5 m).

As its name would indicate, the adult white-tailed eagle has a white tail. With the exception of its tail, head and neck, the plumage of the adult bird is brown. The face and neck of the bird lightens as it ages, and some older white-tailed eagles have white face feathers. Adult birds have a beak, eyes, legs and feet that are yellow.

The female is the larger of the birds, and pairs of eagles are believed to mate for life. They generally mate when they are about five years old. During courtship, the male white-tailed eagle is known for loud calls. The courtship also includes high-speed aerial displays in which couples lock their talons together.

Their nests are in high trees or on the ledges of cliffs. Both partners help build the nest, which they might continue to construct over many years of use. Older nests might reach as much as 12 feet (3.7 m) in height. The nests are constructed of branches and lined with vegetation.

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The female bird will lay two or three eggs, and the parents will take turns incubating the eggs during the 38-40 days of incubation. After the eggs hatch, the mother bird stays with the babies for the first few weeks, and the father bird does all the hunting for the family. After about three weeks, the appetites of the growing babies require both parents to hunt.

The white-tailed eagle has a lifespan of 25-30 years. The birds are both scavengers and hunters. They will eat carrion but also prey on fish, other birds and small mammals such as rabbits and rodents.

This species' survival was under threat during the 19th century, and white-tailed eagles were not found in many parts of their native European territories by the early 20th century. Conservation efforts, reintroduction and enforcement of protective legislation have led to the white-tailed eagle's return to much of its original habitat. The white-tailed eagle is likely the large, white bird of prey depicted on many European coats of arms.

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