Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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An injured White-bellied Sea-eagle which was unable to fly is experiencing the wind beneath its wings thanks to some flying lessons from Taronga staff.

The majestic White-bellied Sea-eagle was bought to Taronga Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital by a sea bird carer who had rehabilitated the bird after a suspected poisoning.

All attempts to release the young female back into the wild had failed with the impressive eagle promptly landing to the ground and becoming prey for predators like domestic dogs.

Taronga Zoo’s Free Flight Bird Show Manager, Matthew Kettle, said: “Without being able to fly, the Zoo really was the last chance for this bird.” 

A thorough veterinary check at the Zoo could not find any breakages or abnormalities which would prevent the bird from flying, but it had lost a lot of muscle tone and strength, and its feathers were in quite poor condition so the Zoo’s expert Free Flight Bird Show team began work with the eagle.

“Initially we began building a relationship and trust with the bird, and step by step we have been increasing her training and asking more from her,” said Matthew.

Building a relationship with the bird is vital

“When we first started working with her, we realised there was something very different about this bird. Sea Eagles are notoriously aggressive but she has a very placid nature, however worryingly we also suspect there might be something neurologically wrong with her which maybe a result of the suspected poisoning. ”

“She can be quite uncoordinated at times and if she gets over whelmed or nervous she will freeze and go into an almost trance like state. She also manoeuvres her body into odd positions whilst in flight, nothing like we have ever seen before. There is no way she would survive in the wild.”

After six months of intensive work by the Zoo’s bird experts the eagle is now flying freely between the keepers at a headland over looking Sydney Harbour. Her trance-like moments are decreasing and she is in training for the Zoo’s popular Free Flight Bird Show.

“She is definitely a special bird.  At just three years of age she has had to over come many challenges to get to this point. When she arrived at the Zoo we never thought we would see her take to the sky, but our training and perseverance is slowly paying off.”

“We have named her Barinya which is an Aboriginal word for star and we hope with more training she will live up to her name in our Free Flight Bird Show. However that could be a long way off as the flying conditions at our show can be challenging and we definitely need to take it slowly with Barinya.”

The White -bellied Sea -eagle is a magnificent bird of prey which is found throughout all of coastal South East Asia and spotted locally around Sydney Harbour. Often visitors watching the Zoo’s Free Flight Bird Show are treated to the aerial acrobatics of wild eagles fishing offshore.

White-bellied Sea-eagle in Flight

They are Australia’s second largest bird of prey with a wing span of 1.8 – 2.2 metres and females like Barinya tip the scales at around four kilograms. They are revered in some cultures and forbidden to be killed by the people of Nissan Island. Its calls at night are said to foretell danger, and seeing a group of eagles flying overhead calling is a sign that someone has died. The bird has also featured on the $10,000 Singapore note.

Taronga Zoo is committed to educating visitors about the importance of birds, the need to protect their habitat and the significance of practicing safe recreational activities within their environment. A number of water birds including ‘Billy’ the Brolga present their skills daily in the QBE Free Flight Bird Show. The show inspires people to learn about individual birds’ characteristics, as they watch them demonstrate their natural behaviours and show off their physical features, while the presenters explain how irresponsible human activities can detrimentally affect birds.