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Northern Territory Government Australia
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Official Symbols - Faunal Emblems

Wedge-tailed Eagle

Wedge-tailed EagleThe Wedge-tailed Eagle, Aquila audax, with an average wingspan of two and a half metres is Australia's largest raptor.

This bird is clearly recognisable for its huge broad wings and the long wedge-shaped tail. The general colour is dark brown with a chestnut hind neck. Their legs are covered in feathers right down to the feet. Its hooked beak and strong talons clearly mark the Wedge-tailed Eagle as a bird of prey. They are found throughout Australia. In the Northern Territory they are more common in the arid centre than on the coastal plains of the north.

Eagles form long-lasting pairs which occupy a nesting and breeding territory and defend it against intruders. At sunrise they locate most of the carrion that forms an important part of their diet. Later on, as the sun heats up the air close to the ground, convection currents produce strong updrafts known as thermals on which the Wedge-tailed Eagle soar and glide up to 2000 metres high for much of the middle of the day. It is believed that this high aerial activity acts as a display to warn other eagles of the occupation of a territory.

Before man came to Australia it is probable that the Wedge-tailed Eagles ate a whole range of smaller mammals along with other birds and reptiles which are an important dietary item in arid areas. Since man's arrival, fires, sheep and cattle have destroyed the ground cover in which many of the smaller mammals lived.

Man also introduced the rabbit on which eagles now subsist for a large part of their range. It is also probable that the increased watering points provided by agriculture have led to an increase in kangaroo numbers, a further food source for eagles.

Wedge-tailed Eagles nest in the highest trees and build large platform-like nests out of sticks. These nests may be reused from year to year, after being given a coating of fresh leaves.

Two eggs are laid around June-July, but usually only one of the young survives and is fledged when it is 80 to 90 days old. Both sexes share the incubation and feeding of the young. The surviving young wander for two to three years before establishing their own territory. They attain full adult plumage when around four years old. Under drought conditions eagles may not breed for several years in succession.

Red Kangaroo

Red Kangaroo

The Red Kangaroo, Macropus rufus, is the embodiment of most people's concepts of our unique fauna. It is the largest extant marsupial with adult males standing more than two metres tall and weighing up to 75 kilograms, all this for an animal that weighs only 800 milligrams at birth.

Their long thin limbs give Red Kangaroos the mobility to travel large distances under adverse conditions. Most males are a rusty-brown and females a smokey-grey and both have paler under-surfaces. They have conspicuous white marks on the sides of their muzzles with a black line through them. Their thick pale fur allows these kangaroos to reflect a great deal of radiated heat.

Despite the harshness of their environment Red Kangaroos have one of the widest distributions of any of the macropods. They are found throughout inland Australia wherever the annual rainfall is less than 375 millimetres, an area of perhaps five million square kilometres.

During periods of drought they retreat to the watercourses and to open grassy depressions on the plains where green feed is more readily available. As these areas become restricted it is then that large congregations of several hundred kangaroos may occur. These however are a matter of attraction to a limited resource and, except for mother-offspring interactions, there is little social structure.

These open areas have few shade trees or shrubs under which the animals can rest during the heat of the day. Therefore when good seasons come back around the Kangaroos move to the Mulga tree areas where both food and shade are readily available.

It is only under these good conditions that breeding can occur. Females may have one young at foot, one in the pouch and one dormant embryo. During droughts breeding is usually reserved to conserve available food.

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