HigherGround Raptors reunites two White-bellied Sea Eagles from the NSW Central Coast

Do you remember being lost as a child? Separated from your parents, unsure of where they were and the realisation you were all alone? It’s the same fear as a parent, followed by an overwhelming sense of relief when you find them.

HigherGround Raptors has proven it’s the same for birds.

Two White-bellied Sea Eagles believed to be father and son, found stranded in separate chicken coups along the central coast of NSW, have been reunited under the care of experienced wildlife carer Peg McDonald.

A juvenile eagle was found weak, underweight and in desperate need of help in a chicken coup in Jilliby just after Christmas on the NSW central coast by Wildlife ARC carer Jacky Hunt. She began the rehabilitation process for the bird before it was strong enough to be sent to HigherGround Raptors in the Southern Highlands.

Just two weeks earlier, Taronga Zoo Wildlife Hospital took in an adult sea eagle that was shot at Quorrobolong, near Newcastle. They operated on him and made preparations for his rehabilitation and flight fitness recovery with Ms McDonald.

“Although we don’t have the funds to do a definitive DNA test to know for sure, their behaviour, timing and location has the HigherGround team confident that the two are in fact father and son.”

Peg McDonald.

When both eagles made it to HigherGround, they were put into separate aviaries, side by side. Ms McDonald was keen to see how they’d interact: two different sea eagles found 20 kilometres (by flight) apart, rescued from separate chicken coups two weeks apart by two different wildlife rescue groups.

“They immediately got as close together as they could, yet they were still separated by the shade cloth and wire mesh,” she said.

What happened next amazed the HigherGround team.

“They were put into a larger area together and immediately flew up to the same perch and began preening each other, calling gently and slowly flying together,” Ms McDonald said.

The eagles have been inseparable ever since.

“They are now flying beautifully in the flight aviary, being readied for release together back into the wild.”

Ms McDonald said she had hoped to fit a tracker to both birds to monitor their survival and safety after their release, but Australian Raptor Care and Conservation (ARCC) – the scientific arm of HigherGround Raptors – only had enough funding for one.

“Without the help of these wildlife groups, this little sea eagle family may never have been reunited,” she said. 

“Although we don’t have the funds to do a definitive DNA test to know for sure, their behaviour, timing and location has the HigherGround team confident that the two are in fact father and son.”

Not a usual feature of the Southern Highlands, sea eagles make their home along coasts and waterways – recognised by their distinctive white head, chest and belly, often perched in trees or swooping down to catch fish from oceans and rivers.

White-bellied Sea Eagles are opportunistic feeders best described as hunters, pirates and scavengers. They are known to catch prey including fish, eels, sea snakes and turtles and also harass smaller birds and force them to drop their food and steal it from them.

However, in populated and developed areas of the central coast, sea eagles have adapted and use their human neighbours to their advantage. A popular food source is the local rubbish tip.

For more information or if you want to support these eagles or help any of the native raptors at HigherGround Raptors to get back into the wild, visit Higher Ground Raptors on Facebook or www.australianraptorcareandconservation.com