Black-shouldered Kite

Australia is blessed with many different species of raptor. Raptors are probably the most popular birds photographed, and many birders only seek to photograph these bird species.. Since birding was not an option this week due to weather, and simply not seeing many at all in the forest on our birding date, I thought it good to showcase some of our beautiful raptors. These exceptional birds are the kings of the sky and their image is used to denote power and authority in defence forces, police and governments. Above a Black=shouldered Kite alights from the top of a dead tree. Let me list some of the important traits that group these amazing birds into a unique and beautiful class of their own.

Very elderly Wedge-tailed Eagle

⇒ They have the keenest and sharpest eyesight of any creature: They can see small rodents  over one kilometre away and most of them, such as the Wedge-tailed eagle have, not only binocular vision, but also telescopic vision, as they are able to press out their eye socket in a way that zooms their eyesight making it over 5 times better than our own.

Wedge-tailed Eagle about to land on prey

⇒ They have powerful retractable talons: Unlike other birds they do not only have claws, but they have large scissor-sharp talons controlled by powerful muscles in their feet which they can advance and retract. This is how they kill their pray and carry it in the air. The Osprey has very unique talons designed for carrying fish with opposing toes. Wedge-tailed Eagles have been seen carrying in flight small lambs and and even young wallabies. Click on photos to enlarge them.

 

⇒ They have very strong hooked beaks: The hook on the beak allows them to tear flesh off their prey, which for the most part if smaller animals and birds. They lack teeth and have to break off pieces small enough to swallow whole.

White-bellied Sea-Eagle beak

⇒ They have very large wingspans which enable them to soar:  One of the features of these birds similar to many other birds is their ability to catch the warm upper currents off land (called thermals) and once they reach a certain height using their powerful wing beats, they spread their wings and soar motionless with the winds up to 2000 meters, usually going up in a circular trajectory. This a good reason why keen eyesight is essential for these birds to be able to spot their prey from high in the sky. Not all raptors prefer this technique, but most can do it. They can move and turn in the air with barely a visible movement. The conservation of energy as they aeronautically  soar  on the thermals allows them to spend hours in the sky, but they can only do this by day..

Square-tailed Kite

 They primarily prefer to hunt alone and prefer a very high 360° view when resting: Mostly lone hunters, though when breeding are training young they will accompany spouse and young. The place to look for these birds is usually on the highest point of a dead tree, or even green tree, when they are resting, as they like to purvey their complete surroundings, like a king surveying his kingdom,  able to spot prey from some distance away. 

Australian Hobby

⇔ They build some of the largest nests: Some Eagles build nests that weigh several tons and are many metres wide and deep. Our Wedge-tailed Eagle and White-bellied Sea-Eagle, being our largest raptors, build the largest in Australia. Here is a link reporting one of the largest reported from the USA. 

A Wedge-tailed Eagle eyrie (with chicks in nest)
White-bellied Sea-Eagle eyrie (chicks just visible

⇒ They train their young for several years in every aspect of life: This not so for all raptors, but is for the larger eagles, however they require persistent adult teaching to learn to fly and hunt. Much of their learning is simple observation and listening, as it is for us. Adult eagles are known to push their young out of the nest if they do not brave it themselves, when they think they should.

This is where the phrase “I carried you on eagles wings” (Exodus 19:4) comes from in the Bible, when God was referring to Israel being delivered from Egypt’s slavery. After pushing the youngster out of the nest, the adult flies rapidly beneath it. If it fails to fly it catches it on is back and wings it back to the nest to try again, as many times as it takes. Finally, as the youngster  starts to fly of its own accord,it flies beneath the youngster until it can fly alone, and then leads it away to strengthen its wings in flight. These photos and this training process, among others appear in my first book. Notice in the above LH photo how the youngster looks down to check the parent is there.

⇒ They can deliberately hatch their young at different times: Most raptors, in particular eagles,  usually only have one to three offspring at a time, and only two out of three may survive.  This is because the mother deliberately lays her eggs 2 to 4 days apart, so they each are born larger than the hatching that follows. This can lead to the smallest becoming the weakest due to feeding priority given to the larger birds, and often the first born will compete for food being stronger, causing the youngest to eventually die. Because of the amount of hands on effort in feeding, teaching and raring the young for several years, it is to their advantage to raise only one healthy youngster in each clutch. Even though the juveniles are fully fledged, they continue to need feeding for some time till they learn to successfully catch their own without help, as it is with us training a child to use a knife and fork.

⇒ They are mostly monogamous: Most raptors spend their lives with the one mate and raise their families together. If a mate dies they may go looking for a replacement and continue breeding.  It is not uncommon to see pairs of adults and junior tagging along as they soar on the thermals.

Sea-Eagle family out touring together
family of Black Kites (2 adults+2 juveniles LHS)

⇒ They vary between species in size and hunting methods:  While the larger eagles and kites  swoop down on their prey at speed from a distance above or from the top of a dead tree, Smaller Goshawks, Kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites hover above waiting for their prey to appear and then suddenly descend on it from above. Pacific Baza  fly into the trees and catch their prey as they fly through.  Harriers fly very low over the ground and drop suddenly down on their quarry. A Black-shouldered Kite shows us (below) an example of hovering over prey, but alas on a very cloudy day.

⇒ They have  beautiful distinctive plumage:  The main form of identification of these birds when they are soaring is their specific under wing plumage, as this may be all you see. Here are some examples…

Little Eagle light morph
Whistling Kite
Wedge-tailed Eagle
White-bellied Sea Eagle
Brahminy Kite
Nankeen Kestrel
Red Goshawk
Eastern Osprey
Black-breasted Buzzard or Kite
Black Kite (which is actually brown in colour)
Spotted Harrier “Harriering” low over the paddocks
Swamp Harrier male

 

Pacific Baza flying into trees (hunting style)
Brown Goshawk juvenile
Collared Sparrowhawk
Grey Goshawk
Brown Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

That is enough raptors for this week, otherwise you will be raptored out. This is a summary of the kings of the sky by day. Part 2 will look at the kings of the sky by night,  the eagles of the night we know as owls.


Hope you all have an enjoyable week despite all the hardships that many of you are going through at present with both weather and virus. Praying you all keep alert and well during this unusual season in our history.  Many have shared how bird numbers are reduced this season.

If this is your first visit to my blog, a warm welcome to you. Have a look around on my website pages from my menu or Home Page. I have updated several pages recently. Check out my book, I am the final stages of publishing process of my next book. Here is a last plug for my current one on an unused clip I found.


Here is a joke a dear friend shared on Facebook I am sure the ladies will appreciate:


White-bellied Sea Eagle – hunting instructor

Raptors carry an air of majesty and authority in the way they do life, which makes them the ideal emblem for use on law enforcement and defense force coats of arm. Their ability to soar for hours motionless, yet always moving with  outspread wings is always a delight for every birder and for many who are enchanted by their presence.  The raptor has the best of everything, eyesight, powerful body, hunting ability, is omnivorous to name a few. But as I shared above, and from my book (page example shown above earlier), the more complex,  intelligent and able the creature, the more learning and listening is required of the trainee nestling and fledgling. These birds, similar to the Raven, Magpie, Bowerbird and Lyrebird take several years of training before they gain their full maturity colours and can breed. It is also interesting from recent research and personal observation that in a similar way to us humans there are good and poor learners with varying results of success in life.

The White-bellied Sea Eagle perched above has been trying to get its juvenile fledgling to hunt for itself, but it just remains in the nest squawking to be fed. The boat captain on the Arthur River laughingly said that these parents have been endlessly trying by example, to make this reluctant youngster hunt for itself. The video above shows the father adult catching a fish and carrying it away from the nest out of sight to eat it. This is followed by the juvenile trying to follow, but stops when it loses sight of it.  This is old movie so it lacks quality.

reluctant juvenile pupil

Simply put the lesson is: no matter how well we may parent and set a good example for our children, it is ultimately up to the child what they choose to learn from and respect. Many hurting parents have shared their false guilt over how they blame themselves for their children not turning out the way they had hoped, after much loving commitment to their development and instruction. Each of us are ultimately responsible for our own destiny, and what we do with what we have been given. It is the hardest thing for many to allow  their child  to suffer the consequences for their bad decisions, but it is important that they learn for themselves and sometimes the hard way. We need to always show them love, acceptance and forgiveness , sharing our concern, but always letting them live their own lives and not try saving them, as this is also part of their normal growth and maturity Often they will have a light bulb moment and realize the error of their ways and apologise to the parents down the track. Many children become spoilt and dependent on parents, who eventually become co dependent  to the child’s carelessness, bailing them out and suffering the use and abuse syndrome, with the child never maturing or learning to correct their bad habits.

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction  and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head  and a chain to adorn your neck.” – Proverbs 1: 8,9 (NIV)

“Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.” – Proverbs 29:17

 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7


W. A. Hewson (Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy).

‘To introduce people to our unique Australian birds,

So we can learn from them how to live a healthy and happy life.’

NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed  by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021.

 

28 Comments »

    • Thanks Sandra, for your appreciative comments, raptors are beautiful soaring when the sun is on them, but very difficult to catch their beauty when it is cloudy and there is background lighting. Raptors in a blue sky is perfect. 🙂

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  1. It’s enlightening to gain more insight into the behaviors of your raptors, and the lovely photos are always a treat. As always it is interesting to see both similarities and differences between our raptors, but saddening that the loss of habit is an ongoing global phenomenon. Wishing you and all your family a blessed and relaxing weekend 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Cindy, yes raptors are one of our favorite photo moments, Where did you see the Sea Eagle Cindy, It would be unusual to see them in the US? I had a special relationship with a Sea Eagle many years ago when I lived on our north coast which I shared in my comment reply to Karen. As you said it is always a thrill to see them soaring, hunting or perched. Enjoy your week !

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    • Thanks Sandra, yes the Wedgie is an Aussie favorite, most birders get especially excited to see them being our largest eagle with a wingspan of 2.3 metres fully grown. These birds were alsmost pushed to extinction last century because there was a bounty on their heads as they were accused of taking young lambs, which they only did in times of severe drought. The conservationists manged to repeal the law in most states, but we know many farmers still shoot them and keep it to themselves. As a result we do not see as many of these majestic wonders.

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    • Thanks Donna, Yes the Wedgie is always a great thrill to see being our largest eagle with a 7.5 ‘ wingspan, as I shared in Sandra’s reply there was a bounty on this bird for over a hundred years which almost wiped them out, but with much fighting for the birds survival by conservationists those laws were slowly removed from each state so now there is a fine for killing them, though many farmer still shoot them secretly.

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      • Thanks for sharing Karen. You reminded me of a special experience and relationship I developed with a White-bellied Sea Eagle when I use to live on a headland on the north coast of our state, where this eagle would often rest in the air above my head whenever it saw me, so people would call out “Ashley your eagle is here !”. It was amazing as I was the only person in town that it would do this to. When I would try to stalk photos of it by hiding in the bush waiting for it to do its flight around the headland it would cruise right up to the bush and just look at me hiding, while it maintained its position and after a several seconds glide off to complete its journey. I can remember being on the beach with my youngest son and started to tell him about this eagle and how it knows me and he immediately said looking up “Dad, is that the eagle?” and there it was above our heads and while it was windy it maintained its position dormant and as soon as I pointed my camera at it, without a visible whisker of movement it glided off, as if to tease me. That always was a special moment in my life to be so favored. 🙂

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      • I love this story! And I would say it is definitely your totem in life or spirit animal. I seem to be the only one who is overwhelmed with joy at its presence and so, I believe these eagles do know us and visit us for a reason. 🙏🏻

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  2. A fine collection of wonderful images and beaut insight into their lives.
    I have to say that the Braminy Kite is one that I’ve not seen nor photographed, but is certainly one of the more spectularly marked of our raptors

    We’ve had a couple of seaons with Black-shouldered Kites, Brown Falcons and recently Hobbys and the various training methods seem to be individually tailored for each young one. Dad Black-shouldered Kite is not above giving his wayward youngsters a sharp ‘clip’ on the back if they ignore his warnings.

    So much to learn, so many different approaches.
    Always good to see your view of the wonderful birdlife around you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks David, yes your research on how the different raptors you have observed has proved very interesting and again highlights how much the demonstrate human like traits in their parenting, having individual recognition of the needs of each youngster. It is good that our collection of knowledge is making the world aware of the intelligence and close structure of many of these family groups which our society is sadly loosing on many fronts today. I have to say that a Brahminy Kite in full sun is one of the most brilliant sites of any bird, the contrasting chestnut with pure white. Hope you have a sunny week.

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  3. Thank you for such an informative post again. I remember being at a beach resort up north with officemates on a team-building activity. We got to watch a Brahminy kite flying rather low. I think God made its outstretched wings extra colorful and interesting.

    Filipinos, even those not really interested in birds, were saddened with the recent death of a Philippine eagle: https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2021/1/8/pagasa-philippine-eagle-passed-away.html.

    Seems like you recently joined Facebook! Nice seeing you there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Myra, and thanks for your recent letter I will reply soon. Yes the Brahminy is the most brilliant of raptors to see in full sun, they always show stark contrast with their white and chestnut plumage. Thanks for sharing the link to your national eagle, sad to read of its death and even sadder that like many of our majestic raptors their habitat is being stripped away from them. Our national eagle, the Wedge-tailed Eagle suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties since British settlement due to a bounty on its head, but thankfully laws were eventually changed in all states, though reluctantly, to make it illegal, though many farmers continue to shoot them secretly. This is why we get so excited if we actually see our eagle as they are not common any more. I have been on Facebook for years, but have gone under several names, I now only have one account and I mainly am there to market my book, and soon books: @BeautifulBirdBook and to see what family and friends are up to oh and also for our church encouragement which was important during Covid. Enjoy your weekend !

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  4. A beautiful collection of photos Ashley, raptors are such beautiful and majestic birds. I occasionally get to watch a swamp harrier flying over the local Wetlands or hovering above the grassy areas there looking for food in the early mornings or evenings. They are mesmerizing to watch when in flight, I could watch them all day. 🙂

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    • Thanks Sue, yes Swampies are a very different hunter and always show great majesty as they scan low over the fields. I have a a very vivid memory of one I saw in the Townsville wetlands years ago which was just so beautiful and majestic in the sun. Your Harriers will be migrating soon across Bass Strait to the mainland to escape the cold. Apparently it can be a very hazardous journey for this bird as it is build for slow low flying. Their nests are well hidden down among reeds and tall grasses unlike many raptors which have tree nests. Enjoy the Autumn freshness, those single digit nights in February is interesting. 🙂

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