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White-tailed eagle catching fish

When fishing, white-tailed eagles fly low over water, stop to hover for a moment and then drop to snatch fish from the surface.

Image: Chris Gomersall

White-tailed eagles are versatile and opportunistic hunters and carrion feeders, sometimes pirating food from other birds and even otters. They eat largely fish, but also take various birds, rabbits and hares.

Some pairs kill many fulmars, which are thought to be the source of DDT and PCBs (chemicals) recorded in eagle eggs. Carrion is an important part of their diet, especially during the winter months. Most lambs are taken as carrion. 

The birds rely on surprise rather than agility to catch prey other than fish. When fishing, they fly low over water, stop to hover for a moment and drop to snatch fish from the surface. Sometimes the bird plunges in to catch prey deeper down. 

They hold small prey in one foot and often eat it in flight, but usually carry larger prey in both feet to a convenient perch to eat it. The eagles are known to follow fishing boats and eat waste thrown overboard.

During the breeding season while they are rearing young, they require 500-600g of food per day. This drops to 200-300g per day during the winter months when the birds are less active.