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Characteristics

WTE scavenging WTE scavenging (c) Kjartan Trana
  • Plumage
    Sexes similar, juvenile dark brown; adult has pure white tail and pale head, yellow bill and legs
  • Body size
    Sexually dimorphic: females average 11% larger, 43% heavier than males
  • Weight
    Male: 3.1-5.4kg; Female: 3.7-6.9kg
  • Wing span
    2-2.4m (6.5-7.9 feet)


White-tailed Eagles Haliaeetus albicilla, also known as the Sea Eagle, are large raptors (diurnal birds of prey) that are found throughout Northern Eurasia, from Scotland east as far as Bering Straits separating Asia from North America. Isolated populations also exist in Iceland and Greenland. White-tailed Eagles are heavy, broad-winged birds with a characteristic rectangular shape in flight, so much so that they have been described as “flying barn doors”. Along with the short, wedge-shaped tail, adults in flight appear particularly vulturine in shape. Immature sea eagles have slightly longer tails and flight feathers than adults but these feathers are replaced over their successive moults (old feathers are lost and new ones grown).

Sea eagles are usually closely associated with water, nesting and foraging often close to large, highly productive inland waterbodies (lakes, rivers) and lowland marshes. However, in western Europe they are predominately coastal or marine, nesting on or near sea-cliffs and offshore islands. Trees are highly preferred as nest sites in Norway although, in places lacking trees and cliffs, birds will also nest on the ground. Worldwide there are eight species of Haliaeetus eagle: 4 species in Eurasia (White-tailed, Pallas's, Steller's, and White-bellied Sea Eagles), 2 in Australasia (White-bellied and Sandford's Sea Eagles), 2 in Africa (African and Madagascar Fish Eagles), and one in North America (Bald Eagle). In North America, the White-tailed Eagle is replaced by its close relative, the Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus. Both White-tailed and Bald Eagles are more social, less aggressive and less wary of humans than the “Aquila” eagles such as Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos.