Tasmanian Wedge-Tailed Eagles and the Tarkine Woodlands
Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles (Aquila audax fleayi) live on the southern island of Tasmania and are distinct from the other wedge-tail subspecies (Aquila audax audax) that resides on the Australian mainland. With only 200 of these magnificent eagles left in the wild, the subspecies is considered endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Habitat destruction from logging and mining poses the primary threat to the subspecies' survival.
During a visit to a conservation park, I was extremely lucky to observe and capture photos of several Tasmanian wedge-tails, including a breeding pair in their nest. This article includes . . .
- a selection of original photos from my visit to the Tarkine.
- a general description of the Tasmanian wedge-tail subspecies.
- a discussion of the Tarkine habitat and the myriad of threats it faces.
- some tips for photographing birds in the wild.
Aquila audax fleayi: General Info
Wedge-tailed eagles are large hunting raptors found in Australia and New Guinea. As mentioned above, the Tasmanian wedge-tail subspecies is found only on Tasmania off the southeastern coast of the Australian mainland and is endangered and protected. There are estimated to be only 200 or so individuals left in the forests of Tasmania.
With wings outstretched, Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles can measure more than two meters from wingtip to wingtip and can weigh over five kilograms, which is very heavy for a bird. Females tend to be larger and heavier than males.
Mating and Reproduction
These raptors typically live in pairs or families and split their time between a handful of nests to better cover their hunting area. Pairs usually mate for life, but individuals may take a new partner if a mate is killed. In times of drought, wedge-tails may not breed for years at a time.
One or two eggs are laid, with the second and subsequent eggs being smaller. If food is sparse, the largest, strongest chick may kill and eat the younger, smaller one(s). Chicks typically learn to fly around 90 days after hatching but remain juvenile and may continue to live in their family group until they are ready to mate.
Wedge-tails typically hunt smaller birds, rabbits, possums, cats, reptiles and fish, but some have been known to attack larger prey, including wallabies, sheep and goats on occasion. Due to the decline of Tasmanian devil populations, wedge-tails have increasingly undisputed access to roadkill.
Tasmania's Tarkine Woodlands
The Tarkine, located in the northwest portion of the island of Tasmania, is the last remaining Gondwanan temperate rainforest in Australia. Picturesque rivers wind their way through dense forests of towering, ancient trees, ferns and lush undergrowth, and various cave and rock systems are hidden underground.
The many stunning waterfalls and deep gorges ensure that the Tarkine forest rivals the Australian coastline and outback in terms of rugged natural beauty. Home to a wide range of flora and fauna, the Tarkine is one of the few places in the world where Antarctic plants and mosses grow.
Animals in the Tarkine
Tasmanian wedge-tails share the Tarkine with possums, a huge variety of birds, platypus, echidnas and endangered Tasmanian devils. Because the area is surrounded by farmland, smaller native animals are often hunted by stray cats and dogs. Luckily, the Tasmanian wedge-tail is safe from these.
World Heritage Status
With over 477,000 hectares of native forest, portions of the Tarkine are protected as national parks. The area is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, although this status is under threat due to mining and logging plans by the current Australian government.
Logging and Mining Threats
Unfortunately, the habitat of the Tasmanian wedge-tail and its neighbors is at risk from current logging on the edges of the forest and a number of running open-cut mines. Sadly, many more mining and logging projects within the Tarkine are planned.
Unfortunately, the Australian government has approved new metal mines in the Tarkine area, most of which are to be open cut. They are also trying to obtain logging approval for a large area of currently listed World Heritage forest. Logging in the Tarkine is mostly prohibited, but unfortunately, mining is not. Australia has been warned by the World Heritage Committee that the Tarkine will be delisted if logging and mining plans continue.
Natural-habitat destruction from open-cut mines and logging in and around the Tarkine is contributing to the rapidly decreasing numbers of two protected species—the Tasmanian Devil and the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle. Many conservation groups are lobbying the government and raising public awareness of the impact that mining and logging are having in the ancient Tasmanian forest.
Visit the Tarkine Coalition to find out how you can help protect the Tarkine today!
In January 2016, a huge swathe of the World Heritage forest in Tasmania burned. Unfortunately, many of the last King Billy and pencil pines were destroyed. These were some of the last remaining populations of their species, which were once abundant in Gondwanaland. Some were more than 1000 years old. Unlike most eucalyptus species, these particular trees won't regrow.
Many scientists say that this is a direct result of climate change. The cooling of the eastern Indian Ocean reduces Tasmania's rainfall and dries out the forest, and El Niño brings very hot and stormy summers. With lots of lightning in a dry forest, the devastating 2016 fires were all but unavoidable. Sadly, the old-growth rainforests of the Tarkine were also badly burnt.
UNESCO has asked the Australian government what it plans to do to mitigate the risk of such a catastrophe this from occurring again in the World Heritage area, but as of yet, there has been no response.
Organisations Protecting the Tarkine and the Eagles
- GetUp!: GetUp! is running a letter-writing campaign through which you can add your voice to help prevent additional mines from desecrating the Tarkine, home of the eagles.
- The Tarkine National Coalition: The Tarkine National Coalition is a locally based organisation fighting to increase the Tarkine's protection from logging and mining. Donations and merchandise purchases fund public-awareness campaigns. The organisation also runs a letter-writing campaign to government officials and provides Tarkine tour information.
- Care2 Petitions: Consider signing this "Save the Tarkine Rainforest" petition to be sent to environmental minister Tony Burke. It advocates against mining and logging in the Tarkine and has a target of 5000 signatures.
After a tiring day of wandering around touristy places on crutches (I had broken my ankle a few days before), I decided to spend some much-needed time to myself at a local conservation park. I braced myself against a sturdy eucalyptus tree to snap photos of the wedge-tails, which were nesting at the top of some distant trees. If there had been a handy railing, I would have used my Joby tripod and timer to get clearer, less blurry pictures.
I find that the best camera is the one you carry with you! The photos of the wedge-tails in this article were captured using an old model point-and-shoot—the Canon Powershot S3 IS. It’s a robust, good-quality camera with a powerful zoom and fantastic image stabilisation. It's small, lightweight and easy to carry around, so it's perfect for snapping photos of birds when the opportunity presents itself.
Because the bright sky decreased the exposure of the birds and hid them in the shadows, I needed to do some fairly heavy post-processing. Gimp is my photo editor of choice, as it has all the features of Photoshop but is free. I increased the exposure, decreased the contrast, increased the saturation a little and—of course—cropped heavily to bring out the details in the nesting pair.
Raise Your Voice!
Have you visited Tasmania—my favourite part of Australia? Have you managed to see an endangered species in the wild? Do you support conservation efforts? Let me know in the comments below!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.