The White-tailed Eagle Europe’s largest sea eagle

The White-tailed Eagle is a sea eagle of the Haliaeetus genus and distributed across most of the northern Palearctic. As such, the White-tailed Eagle is also larges eagle in Europe and even outranks the Golden Eagle in size. This huge bird or prey mainly feeds on fish.

Once close to extinction, the White-tailed Eagle made a remarkable recovery. Since the early 1980s much has been done to protect this huge bird of prey to survive. Nest were guarded by volunteers and zoos and falconries became acitve in breeding programmes to raise and release young White-tailed eagles into the wild.

There are about 850 breeding pairs in Germany, which is quite a number compared to the 1980s when the White-tailed Eagle was close to extinction.

palearctic bird of prey white-tailed eagle haliaeetus albicilla sea eagle fish eagle
White-tailed Eagle


Towards the end of the 1990s the White-tailed Eagle was listed as critically endangered in Germany. The few breeding pairs at the Baltic Sea belonged to the more or less coherent Baltics and Fennoscandia population. Guarding nest sites and also breeding and releasing juveniles to the wild resulted in a remarkable recovery of this species in the Baltics and Germany’s lowlands such as in Schleswig-Holstein, Brandenburg, and Lower Saxony. Twenty years later the White-tailed Eagle is no longer a endangered species.

From my point of view, it is a good thing to guard and protect nesting sites to prevend people from disturbing the birds. Though, it is far more effective to breed and release jung eagles into the wild. This method is still proving most effective in preventing species from becoming extinct.

The EAZA Ex-situ Programme combines the efforts of zoo, falconries and breeding stations in Europe to support the conservation of endangered species. For mor information just check out their page under, information on the Deutscher Falkenorden can be found under

white-tailed eagle
White-tailed Eagle
white-tailed eagle
White-tailed Eagle

White-tailed Eagle –
Distribution – Movements – Habitat

Distribution: The White-tailed Eagle is widely spread across the intire Northern Palearctic. Its distribution begins in the south of Greenland and stretches across northwest Europe and more to the east into the east of Siberia and to East Asia; ending in Japan and on the Kamchatka peninsula. The northern edge of the distribution area runs along the latitude 70 north; whereas the southern edge runs between 30th and 40th latitude north.

The most dense distribution of the White-tailed Eagle is in Norway and in Fennosacandia including Russia. In Germany the species is no longer listed as endangered. The largest populations of the White-tailed Eagle in Germany are in Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Saxony and Lower Saxony.

Movements: Depending on the geographical region, the White-tailed Eagle is either migratory or sedentary. Juveniles are known to migrate. Breeders from northern Russia and northern Asia are mostly migratory. In Fennoscandia and around the Baltics mostly juveniles migrate whereas adults are sedentary. Juveniles migrate directly after the end of the breeding season. In the north adults migrate from end of August and reach the wintering areas between September and October. Homecoming begins in March / April.

Wintering: Wintering areas are Germany, the northern Adriatic and Italy.

Habitat: Habitats must be closely associated to water and are generally in the lowlands. In coastal areas rocky areas, cliffs, low-lying islands and archipelagos, estuaries, coastal marshes are used. Also, the White-tailed Eagle settles in areas with intensive human fishing areas. In the inlands, requirements are secluded woods, forested areas, groups of trees. The White-tailed Eagle needs tall trees for nesting. Nesting sites also require closeness to freshwater such as wetlands, lakes, rivers, marshes, fenlands. White-tailed Eagles are known to feed in commercial fish farms.

white-tailed eagle flying
White-tailed Eagle flying

White-tailed Eagle – Behaviour

White-tailed Eagles are diurnal, meaning they are active during daylight. They are expert gliders and show great flight abilities and aerial displays. Basically, White-tailed Eagles are solitary in their home ranges and pair for life. During winter they are gregarious and gather at favoured feeding spots. Utters high, shrill calls.


Size: 69-92 cm
Weight: ♂ = 3,075-5430 g; ♀ = 4,080-6,920 g
Wingspan: 200-245 cm
Wing: ♂ = 552-640 mm; ♀ = 621-715 mm

white-tailed eagle
White-tailed Eagle


Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Haliaeetus
Species: White-tailed Eagle
Scientific Name: Haliaeetus albicilla

Names and Synonymes of the White-tailed Eagle

German Name: Seeadler
French Name: Pygargue à queue blanche
Italian Name: Aquila di mare
Spanish Name: Pigargo Europeo
Portuguese Name: Águia-rabalva
Dutch Name: Zeearend
Czech Name: Orel mořský
Slovak Name: Orliak morský
Hungarian Name: Rétisas
Norwegian Name: Havørn
Croatian Name: Štekavac
Greenland Name: Nattoralik
Swedish Name: Havsörn
Finish Name: Aromerikotka
Danish Name: Havørn
Polish Name: Bielik
Russian Name: Орлан-белохвост

white-tailed eagle
White-tailed Eagle


Mature: in the third year at the earliest, mainly between 4th-5th year
Mating Season: monogamous pair for life
Clutches per breeding season: 1 brood
Breeding Season: from mid-February to mid-/end of June
Nest: Huge and high nest of sticks and branches, measuring up to 1 metres across and up to 2 metres deep. Nests are used over several years and grow to really large nest sites. Usually, nest sits in trees up to 10-20 metres and higher, only rarely on ground. Closeness to water is essential, also good view of the surrounding area.

white-tailed eagle
White-tailed Eagle

Clutch: rarely 2, usually 1-3 eggs
Eggs: broad-oval eggs with whitish shell.
Recurrent Clutch: possible but only when clutch is lost in the early stages of incubation.
Laying Interval: 48 – 120 hours / 2-5 days
Begin of Incubating: after laying the first egg
Incubation: (34) 38-42 (-46) days, both parents share the task of incubating.

Hatching: 3 days between two juveniles hatching, usually 8-10 days. Clutches with 3 eggs = the first two hatch shortly after each other, while the third hatches much later.
Fledging: after 70 days, after 35-40 days juveniles can independently handle food and after 56 days they leave the nest and stand on tree branches close to the nest.
Dependency: After fledging juveniles are still depending on parents for feeding for another 35-40 days, before finally leaving the parent’s home range.

white-tailed eagle
White-tailed Eagle

Miscellaneous –
Food – Longevity – Mortality – Threats

Food: The White-tailed Eagle is an opportunist scavenger with no specaial preferences to a specific diet. In principle fish is the main diet, however, the main diet in a certain area depends on the availabilty of prey. Apart from fish, birds and mammals are also possible prey, but only when fish is rare or difficult to catch. If necessare White-tailed Eagles also feed on carrion.

Longevity: The oldest known individual of a White-tailed Eagle reached an age of 42 years.

Mortality: With adults mortality stands at 30 per cent per year.

Threats: Hunting, poisoning, leghold traps, collection of eggs, destruction of nests. Other threats are collisions with power lines, vehicles and trains. Wind energy plants also prove deadly to White-tailed Eagles and are probably the main threat in our times. Also, loss of habitat through deforestation, travel, tourism and interruptions in the vicinity of the nest are common threats to breeding and reproduction.

white-tailed eagle
White-tailed Eagle

What can we do to support the European Eagle Populations?

As a single person one can engage in nature conservation organisations, such as NABU in Germany or organisations that actively engange in breeding and releasing of raptors into the wild such as Deutscher Falkenorden.

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For anyone being interested in the EAZA Ex-situ Programme please check out this link:

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Published by Raymond Loyal Photography

Bird, Nature, Art and Architecture Photographer, Traveller, Blogger.

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