The sea eagle is a bird of prey of the Accipitridae family and, as the name suggests, is generally found in and around sea and coastal areas. There are eight different species of sea eagle, varying in size and weight, including the bald eagle and the white-tailed eagle. Even though the name ‘white-tailed eagle’ only refers to one species, several actually have white tails, which they gain when they reach adulthood. The wing span of a sea eagle is generally between two and two-and-a-half metres.
Sea eagles can be found all over the world, especially in Europe and parts of Asia. The birds prefer a rocky coast to make their nests, but can adapt to other habitats, such as lakes and rivers. Their nests are usually built of sturdy branches and sticks and positioned to offer both protection for the young and ease of access. Tall cliffs offer this in addition to a good vantage point and are the ideal place for an eyrie.
The sea eagle belongs to the genus Haliaeetus, which has eight members. The most common is Haliaeetus albicilla, the white-tailed eagle, which is commonly mistaken as the only type of sea eagle. It is closely related to the American bald eagle, of the same genus and known for its white head, making it appear bald. Sea eagles are also related to fishing eagles, of the genus Ichthyophaga.
Sea eagles are usually thought of with affection by people, largely due to their striking appearance, and some species are on conservationist watch-lists due to their rarity. The white-tailed eagle was at one point almost extinct in the UK, but has grown in numbers recently, thanks to reintroduction schemes. At various points in history, the sea eagle has been revered by people. For example, when Shetland fishermen saw the bird, they believed there would be a good fish harvest. In Australia, some Aboriginal tribes hold the white-bellied sea eagle sacred, believing it brings good luck and connection with the land.