Thursday, February 25, 2010

Road Kill and Wedges

About a year ago, when preparing for our first drive through the the Outback, I read that caution needed to be taken when approaching Wedge-tailed Eagles feeding on road-side carrion--they are slow in taking off.  I remembered this as a dark blob appeared on the side of the road in the distance.  I informed Mark that he should slow down.  As we drew closer, we could see a Wedge-tailed Eagle having a mid-afternoon snack on a kangaroo carcass.  Mark had slowed down, but we were not prepared for the haphazard take off of the massive bird.  Rather than flying away from us, it slowly flew directly into our path.  It took several moments for the bird to gain enough altitude to pass over the car.  Had we not been able to pull into the other lane--not a lot of traffic in the Outback-- it would have crashed through the windscreen and ended up in my lap.  Needless to say, for the remainder of our trip from Alice Springs to King Canyon,  whenever I saw something on the horizon I ordered  Mark to slow to a crawl.
The bird with which we had a close encounter gets its name from its long, wedge-shaped tail.  With an average wingspan of over 2.5 m (8.3 ft) and an average length of 1.2 m (4 ft), the Wedge-tailed Eagle is one of the largest birds of prey in the world.  They are found throughout Australia and in Southern New Guinea in almost all habitats, though they tend to avoid rainforest and coastal heaths.  Wedge-tailed Eagles build their nest in a location with a good view of their surroundings--usually the highest point in the area.  When tall trees are absent, small trees, poles, shrubs or cliff faces may be used for nesting.  
Young Wedge-tailed Eagles are mid-brown in color with reddish-brown heads and winds.  During the first 10 years of their lives they will become blacker, until reaching the blackish-brown color of the mature adult.  Females tend to be slightly paler than their mates, but what they lack in color they make up in size.  The females weigh between 4.2 and 5.3 kilograms, while the males are between 3.2 and 4.0 kilograms.  
Other characteristics of the Wedge-tailed Eagle include a bill that is pale pink to cream, brown eyes, and off- white feet.  Also, their legs are feathered all the way down to the base of their toes.
Wedge-tailed Eagles eat both live prey and carrion, though carrion is a major food source.  However, they will hunt available prey including rabbits, lizards, birds, and mammals.  Birds will work together in pairs or large groups to kill larger animals.

No comments:

Post a Comment