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A photo of a Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides)
Little Eagle

Little Eagle

Hieraaetus morphnoides

The Little Eagle, Hieraaetus morphnoides, is a diminutive raptor native to the vast landscapes of Australia. This medium-sized bird of prey, comparable in stature to the Peregrine Falcon, boasts a wingspan of approximately 120 cm. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with females typically larger and darker than their male counterparts. The Little Eagle is adorned with fully feathered legs and a square-cut, barred tail. Its plumage varies between light and dark morphs, often changing with age. The light form is characterized by a dark brown back and wings, with a paler underside, while the dark morph displays a richer rufous hue.

Identification Tips

When observing the Little Eagle, look for its powerful flight characterized by strong wingbeats, gliding on flat wings, and soaring with wings slightly raised or level. Juveniles resemble adults but are more rufous with less pattern contrast. The legs are fully feathered, a feature that aids in identification.

Habitat

The Little Eagle favors open woodland, grassland, and arid regions, avoiding dense forests. It thrives in areas where wooded and open spaces intermingle, such as riparian woodlands and forest margins.

Distribution

This raptor is widespread across Australia, with the exception of the densely forested regions of the Great Dividing Range. Its presence is notable in New South Wales and Victoria, where it was once more commonly sighted.

Behaviour

The Little Eagle is a solitary and elusive bird, often retreating at the first hint of human presence. Its behavior varies from migratory to permanently resident, depending on the individual. Breeding territories are defended with soaring displays, conspicuous perching, and vocalizations.

Song & Calls

The vocal repertoire of the Little Eagle is used primarily for territory defense and includes a variety of calls that can be heard during its soaring display.

Breeding

Breeding occurs once annually, with nests typically placed in mature trees. The species lays one to two eggs per season, with an incubation period of around 37 days. Fledging occurs after approximately eight weeks, and maturity is reached in two to three years.

Diet and Feeding

The Little Eagle is an agile hunter, preying on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and occasionally large insects. It has adapted to include rabbits in its diet following their introduction to Australia. The species hunts by soaring or from an elevated perch, swooping down to capture prey.

Conservation status

The Little Eagle is listed as 'Vulnerable' in certain regions, such as the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales, due to habitat loss and competition. However, it is classified as 'Least Concern' by the IUCN, with a population decline rate not yet reaching critical thresholds.

Threats

Habitat destruction and degradation pose significant threats to the Little Eagle, leading to competition with the larger Wedge-tailed Eagle for food and territory. The decline in rabbit populations, a key food source, due to disease has also impacted the species.

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