In late spring, in 2018, two eggs were laid a month before by a female Little Eagle (hieaaratus morphnoides) hatched in a nest, 30 metres off the Highway just north of Armidale.
The Little Eagle is an often overlooked raptor, mistaken for "some sort of hawk".
They are, however, a true eagle, one of the 3 eagle species found in Australia. A medium sized eagle of 500mm in length with a metre or so wingspan, they are a bold and dynamic predator. Though they feed on a range of birds like rosellas, kookaburras and noisy miners, their main prey are rabbits.
The buff underparts and darker wing feathers grace our skies as they range their territory on the lookout for food. Their mating display in mid-winter, as they emit a whistle call and dive from great heights in a stoop, only to rise again in the blue winter skies, is a sight to behold.
Over the following weeks, a rare event took place, these two eagle chicks grew and both survived! Many raptors have the habit of the youngsters competing for food that the parents bring and should one be stronger than the other, it is the more active eaglet that is fed more than its sibling. It is not long before the weaker one grows ever more feeble, soon it is no longer begging for food and so is overlooked more often. Often the older bird will eat the weak one. Nature's way of avoiding overpopulation of that species.
These two eaglets, a male and a female, fledged and by February, had left the nest. Disaster however, struck one morning when the female chanced across the highway and was hit by a car. Luckily a local saw her and she was handed to a carer with Northern Tablelands Wildlife Carers. An x-ray examination by vets showed no broken bones but a severe brain concussion was evident.
She came into my care unable to balance, eyes mostly closed and in need of a meal.
As she was unable to feed herself I decided to feed her down her throat for a week and see how she developed. 4 times a day I held her in a towel and pushed meat and supplements down her throat and slowly her strength returned. She stood on her legs, balanced better and looked more alert by the day. I began to offer her larger food like the leg of a rabbit but to no avail until, one day, as I approached her hospital cage and was about to open the hatch, a foot struck out, grabbing the food ( and my thumb!). I was elated!
She progressed to larger premises and finally to my pre - release flight cage where she could get sufficient exercise.
One point however was evident, she had never learned to hunt. So, by use of lures, fashioned to look like a rabbit and bird (using an old sheepskin slipper and a thong with chook wings attached), she was trained to take a moving object. Each time she took it directly, she got the meat I had attached, if not, the lure was withdrawn. It was not long before she was hammering the lure directly.
Due to the fires, the worsening drought and the shortage of rabbits due to Calisi virus in late winter, her release was delayed longer than is ideal.
However, on a sunny crisp Sunday morning in September, her day came. With an audience of enthusiasts who had helped in her rehabilitation and taken interest in her care, I released her. Anticlimax ensued when she sat in a tree for an hour, getting her bearings. Finally she was ready and off she flew, to the west across the Fossicking area. Later that day I watched her toying with the wind and I have seen her a few times since, evidence that she is hunting for herself. My hope is that she will find a partner and go to nest nearby.
She was banded and should the worst occur and she is found, the return of that leg band will give us valuable insights into Little Eagle ecology.
It is now June 2022 and two months before Little Eagles will lay their eggs. The Little Eagle is a threatened Species in NSW and they need your help.
UNE researcher, Dr. Stephen Debus has been monitoring Little Eagle nests since the 1980's and he is now working for the Local Land Services Raptor project. His team are looking to map as many Little Eagle nests as possible in the Northern Tablelands.
WE would like anyone who sees a Little Eagle frequenting the same woodland area or calling from a particular tree area, to email the LLS with the details on.....NTRaptors@lls.nsw.org.au.
By building up more data on these beautiful birds, we can truly assess their true numbers in our area.
You can familiarize yourself with the Little Eagle by watching several videos of Little Eagles and hear their calls on Youtube.
If you find an animal in distress or injured please ring 1800 008 290.
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