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Pygargue © P. Roux

White-tailed eagle

The white-tailed eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla, is the largest bird of prey in Europe! A fisherman, it lives near coasts, rivers or lakes. It no longer nests in France but several dozen individuals come and spend the winter in the east of the country.


Class, order & family :

Sauropsida, Accipitriformes, Accipitridae

Genus :


Species :


Lifespan :

25 to 30 years

Height and weight :

90 cm long; 2.40-m wingspan; 6 kg at the most

Incubation :

35 to 38 days, 2 to 3 eggs

Natural habitat :

sea coasts, rivers, lakes

Diet :

birds, mammals, fish, carcasses

Native region :

Northern Europe. Sporadic in France

Conservation programme :


IUCN status: 

LC, Least concerned

Way of life

Also called the “white-tailed sea eagle”, the white-tailed eagle is loyal to its companion as well as its territory and nest. Its nest is built at the top of a large tree or a cliff and is reinforced and embellished with new branches over the years, meaning that it can become very bulky. As part of the courtship ritual, both the male and female perform dives and figures mid-flight. Both parents incubate the 2 or 3 eggs.

They hunt by lying in wait, flying low or circling high in order to spot its prey. It catches fish by skimming the water and throwing its talons forward, it seizes eggs and chicks in waterbird colonies and captures adults by hounding them to exhaustion.

Sedentary creatures, only the northernmost individuals migrate towards the south in winter.

Distinguishing features

Adult white-tailed eagles have white tails, heads and necks. Their legs are partially feathered.

The young eagles are completely dark, it’s not until the age of 5 or 6 that they acquire their definitive adult plumage and become sexually mature.


Even though their numbers are increasing slightly, thanks to the protection it enjoys across the whole of Europe and the abandoning of the most toxic pollutants, the European population numbers no more than just a few thousand pairs... It has been reintroduced in Ireland and in the Scottish islands. In France, it has not nested since 1959, having been subjected to hunting, poisoning, pesticides, water pollution, collections of its eggs and chicks, the disappearance of wetlands and human disturbance.

The young, however, regularly spend winters in Champagne, and in Lorraine since 1973, with adults preferring to stay in their nesting area.

Pygargue à queue blanche © MNHN - P. Roux
Pygargue © MNHN - P. Roux
Pygargue à queue blanche © MNHN - P. Roux