An adult female white-breasted sea eagle rests on the large nest.
An adult female white-breasted sea eagle rests on the large nest. Contributed

Sea eagles spotted near Wide Bay Hwy

A FAMILY of Australia's second largest flighted birds is nesting just off the Wide Bay Hwy, near a small waterhole.

The family of white-breasted sea eagles was first spotted by members of the Gympie and District Field Naturalists Club in April.

Member Peter Hughes said the magnificent bird, second only to the wedge-tailed eagle, had a wing span for a mature female of a bit over 2m.

It is a "typical eagle", with a large hooked beak that is used to tear prey apart.

While it is mainly a bird of waterways and has preference for a fish diet it, will also hunt water birds and eat carrion.

Hunting methods feature mainly a long sloping power dive that uses the speed of the dive plus large powerful talons to kill prey such a water fowl quickly. Hovering over potential prey using wind direction to maintain position, is the technique used for fishing, but the bird rarely enters the water preferring to grab fish from just below the surface.

On inland water bodies turtles are favoured prey and there are reports of birds dropping the turtles to break the shell, though it appears that most often the bird can extract the meat using its beak.

White-breasted sea eagles build large stick nests 2-3m across and may have more than one in an extended territory.

Eagle nests are pretty messy and smelly affairs due to prey brought back for the young, and nests may be used for a few years and then left to disinfect naturally, before being used again.

The nest along the Wide Bay Hwy was close to a small dam, but only a few wing beats away from the Mary River. While the bird was attending the nest, it was not obvious if there were young in the nest, and at the time of the year it was seen the most likely explanation was that the nest was being "touched up" for breeding in spring.

Adult breeding birds may go their own way in non-breeding times, but get back together and do a bit of repair to a nest. That strengthens their bond.

A recent repeat visit showed two birds, one fully plumaged adult female and the other while not yet having attained the full grey and white colours of an adult could still have been the female's new partner.