How the White-bellied Sea Eagle saved its snake for dinner

by | Sep 22, 2023 | Guide Diaries, Trip Reports

Snake on board : White-bellied Sea Eagle (photo: Hayley Forster)

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Watch videos showing how a White-bellied Sea Eagle managed to save its snake prey for dinner. Echidna Walkabout Wildlife Guide, Hayley Forster, recounts an extraordinary three way battle where Sea-Eagle vs Wedge-tailed Eagles vs a lone Raven – with an unfortunate snake as the prize!

It’s not every day you see a Sea Eagle catch a snake

On a recent tour my guests and I were spoiled with some incredible wildlife action!

We’d stopped for a picnic lunch at a river mouth, and were delighted to spot a beautiful, White-bellied Sea Eagle soaring around the dunes. It was gliding around majestically and quite low which was a treat for the tour, as sightings of these eagles are often distant.

Sea Eagle attacked by a Wedge-tailed Eagle

Suddenly the Sea Eagle dived down low and disappeared before popping back up from behind the reeds, now with a snake in its talons!

That alone was quite a sight to see: a first for me and my guests.

But our picnic got even more exciting when a Wedged-tailed Eagle appeared over the dunes, heading straight for the sea eagle and its snake prey.

We were incredibly lucky to witness this pursuit right above our heads!

White-bellied Sea Eagle avoids an attack by a Wedge-tailed Eagle – you can hear the Sea Eagle honking in anger!

Our group watched a few more swooping attempts, vocalisations and wild manoeuvres, before the White-bellied Sea Eagle took the snake out toward the sea, possibly for a “home ground” advantage.

Then along came a Raven to mix things up

Out of nowhere, a raven, upset by the eagle action, decided to attack the Wedge-tailed eagle as it pursued the sea eagle. Ravens have no fear…

A three way aerial battle, right over our heads!

Eventually the Wedge-tailed Eagle gave up and flew back to join its partner soaring directly above us.

But the action didn’t stop there…

More Eagle trouble

Upon returning to our abandoned lunch we noticed a second pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles had appeared from further down the cliffs. I knew this could mean trouble as Wedge-tails are known to be very territorial. Sure enough the new couple flew directly at the first pair of Wedge-tails…..and attacked.

A spectacular aerial dogfight ensued as the partnered pairs began swooping, tossing and turning around each other until, finally, one of the couples disengaged and retreated.

Once again all this unfolded just above our heads!

One of my favourite wildlife encounters

Any sighting of either of these two large, spectacular eagle species is always special, but to see them both in action is incredible and sits high up on my list of favourite wildlife encounters.

Where you can see White-bellied Sea Eagle’s with Echidna Walkabout

East Gippsland: Join our 4 day ➤ Wildlife Journey.

Northern Territory: Join our 7 day ➤ Wild Top End.

Ningaloo: Join our 8 day ➤ Island Birds & Whale Sharks.

Behind the story…

The White-bellied Sea Eagle is a large raptor that catches fish by diving down and snatching them from just beneath the surface of the water. They sometimes prey on sea snakes but it’s rare for them to take land snakes. In this case it’s highly likely that the snake was a land snake.

Most of the action described in this story would have been territorial as it occurred at the height of the breeding season for all the birds involved. No doubt the snake was destined to be food for sea eagle chicks.

Read more from our website (includes some amazing photos of Sea Eagles hunting): Where to see Sea Eagles in Australia

About the author, Hayley Forster – Wildlife Guide

The feature photo and videos in this story belong to Hayley Forster. Do not use them without her express permission. You can contact her via Echidna Walkabout

Echidna Walkabout is a Founding Member of Australian Wildlife Journeys.
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