Lakes’ Sea-eagle survey success

White-bellied Sea-eagles have
White-bellied Sea-eagles are endangered in Victoria which makes these surveys very important in their ongoing conservation.
White-bellied Sea-eagles produce 1-2 chicks

Results are in for the 2023-2024 White-bellied Sea-eagle breeding survey across the Gippsland Lakes funded through the Love Our Lakes program.

The summer census was the first in a two year monitoring project of the birds across their breeding season. Results will inform the next instalment of population surveys in the Gippsland Lakes completed every ten years that date back to 1978.

The project is being coordinated by Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action in partnership with BirdLife Australia.

Over summer, BirdLife Australia and Birdlife East Gippsland went out in the field and carried out 44 inspections of 29 Sea-eagle nests. The majority of nests were closely associated with the Gippsland Lakes with a few sites identified as far east as Mallacoota.

“Nests were carefully selected based on previous records and supported by local knowledge,” said Dr Bradley Clarke-Wood, Wetland Bird Program Coordinator for BirdLife Australia, who is implementing the surveys.

“Through this amazing effort, 12 nests were found to be active with adults displaying behaviour that suggests they are breeding – including nest construction and pairing up or with chicks being seen or heard at the nests.”

By December 2023, 16 of chicks observed had reached a sufficient size to fly and leave the nest – what is known in the bird world as fledging.

“This interim result sees the population holding steady on the 2010 survey. A full comparison and final results will be made after the next round of monitoring is complete in 2025,” said Dr Clarke-Wood.

“A highlight of the project over the past summer was the significant involvement of BirdLife East Gippsland in the data collection for this project. They worked independently and coordinated a high effort survey of nests local to the Gippsland Lakes. This included arranging access with local landholders, where necessary.”

Bradley also thanked the community for sharing their knowledge of nests and adding their observations to the project.

White-bellied Sea-eagles produce one to two eggs between June and September which are then incubated for approximately six weeks. When the eggs hatch, adult birds regularly attend the nest to supply the chicks with food.  Chicks will fledge from the nest when they are between 10 and 12 weeks old.

The survey is planned to be repeated in the 2024-25 breeding season and will conclude the study for this decade.  White-bellied Sea-eagles are endangered in Victoria which makes these surveys very important in their ongoing conservation.

October to December are the most important months for surveying known nest sites so the survey will pick up again then.

This project is one of the Improving the wetlands of Jones Bay and Lake King of the Love Our Lakes program and made possible by the $248 million investment by the Victorian Government to improve the health of waterways and catchments. Of this, $7.5 million is being provided to improve the health of Gippsland Lakes over three years (2021-2024), through support to the Gippsland Lakes Coordinating Committee and for the delivery of on-ground works and community engagement.