With a wingspan of up to 2.5 m, the White-tailed Eagle (Haliaaetus albicilla) is one of the largest eagles in the world. This Eurasian species, occurring from southern Greenland through northern Europe and Russia, is closely related to the American Bald Eagle occupying the same ecological niche. In most parts of its range the birds are residents, only in northern Europe and Russia they migrate south during the winter months. The large eagles are characterized by a broad yellow bill, a brown coat with a distinctly lighter head and almost white tail feathers. Immatures have a brown bill and a rather uniform, dark brown colour (see photographs below).
The White-tailed Eagle can reach 25 years in age, feeding mostly on fish and small mammals. Nevertheless, this diet is changed according to circumstances as the birds are generally quite opportunistic. In the 50s and 60s the species became almost extinct through wide parts of its range. During this time, insecticids such as DDT were used on a large scale and the poisonous substances got enriched in food chains with the eagles as apex predators strongly affected. As a consequence, the eggs of the eagles had a very thin shell and breeding was often unsuccessful. Fortunately, DDT was banned in the 70s and a large movement began to save the eagles in Europe. In the following years, their numbers rose once again and nowadays birds can be seen more commonly. However, new threats such as wind parks emerge and must be monitored.
Most of the photographs in this post were taken during the last weekend (May 2014) on a canoe-trip on the Peene river in northern Germany (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern). Along this river, which is locally called the “Amazon of the north”, White-tailed Eagles can often be seen in large numbers. During our 3-4 hours and 12 km long tour, we saw around 10 eagles! Only the last photograph was shot in April 2012 on the small German island Hiddensee in the Baltic Sea.
As in all my posts, you may click on the photograph to see a larger version… I hope you enjoy these truly majestic birds!