Driving roads in the north of the state recently I was surprised by the number of wedge-tailed eagles I saw feeding on roadkill.
I’d heard that “wedgies” are often seen on roadkill but I had only seen an example of this behaviour once – and that was on the Waterworks Rd close to my home in Hobart where early one morning a pair of wedgies with a youngster in tow had settled on Bennett’s wallaby carcass.
The highways of the north were certainly providing a roadkill feast on my latest tour and I suddenly realised just how vulnerable the endangered eagles are when they settle on roads and verges, and how being killed by motor vehicles is a major factor in their demise in Tasmania.
By coincidence, after I returned home from my northern sortie there were two emails waiting for me on the very subject of eagles on roadkill.
A reader had some interesting observations about eagles “defending” roadkill on roads in Western Australia and he asked me if I had any information on such behaviour in Tasmania.
He said around the gold mining town of Leonora to the east of Perth there was an abundance of wildlife a few years back following a season of good rains. There was thus a lot of roadkill, the reader wrote. Morning travel showed that the eagles thought they “owned” this roadkill and their determination to guard it and not take flight from approaching traffic put the raptors in danger.
“Employees of either the nickel mine in Leonora or a government department were employed to ensure all roadkill was removed well to the side of the road, so removing the eagles from the path of all traffic,” said the reader, who added that he had never seen a raptor in Tasmania defending roadkill in such a way and wondered if I had experienced it.
As I said, previously I’d only seen eagles once on roadkill and the family in question seemed totally unconcerned about my presence and allowed me to get relatively close to them. A motorist on this occasion had had the good sense to pull the wallaby carcass clear of the road, into the mouth of an old quarry.
Eagles, of course, are known to be very aggressive in defence of prey they have hunted down but I suspect in Tasmania roadkill is so abundant that eagles see no need to expend energy in a fight to display ownership when there are so many carcasses on any stretch of road.
Tasmania, in fact, has the highest incidence of roadkill on the planet relative to its size and is known as the “roadkill capital of the world”.
An estimated 300,000 animals die on Tasmanian roads each year, or one animal killed every two minutes. Some researchers who study roadkill put the figure as high as half a million animals a year.
Much of the roadkill was once picked up by Tasmanian devils but with the ravages of devil facial tumour disease – which has wiped out 80 per cent of devils in some areas – there is an abundance of carcasses. Much of this is now being picked up by forest ravens, explaining a boom in the Tasmanian raven population.
The second email concerning eagles had a picture attached to it, showing a road sign on the Bass Highway near Smithton which warns motorists they are approaching an eagle blackspot. It’s the only eagle sign I know of in Tasmania but I am told they are becoming far more common inWestern Australia.
And earlier this year Craig Webb of the Raptor and Wildlife Refuge of Tasmania at Kettering gave me a bumper sticker, also from Western Australia, to attach to my vehicle. The sticker, produced by the Pilbara Wildlife Carers Association, reads: “Toot your horn for wedge-tailed eagles.”