Ernie the Maria Island eagle

wedge tailed eagle taking flight

As other eagles his age were flying thousands of kilometres around Tasmania, Ernie has been reluctant to leave Maria Island. Ernie is part of a long term study at UTAS radio tracking young wedge-tailed eagles to better understand their movements after they leave the nest.

A few months after fledging the nest, young Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles leave their parents’ territory and spend a number of years flying around the Tasmanian landscape, a process called natal dispersal, until they eventually settle in their own territory. Of the 25 young wedge-tailed eagles the project has been tracking, 24 have been flying thousands of kilometres around Tasmania as they disperse. Meanwhile, Ernie the Maria Island wedgie has been reluctant to leave his island home.

Once young eagles leave the nest, they stay with their parents in their territory for a period of time whilst they learn how to be an eagle and fend for themselves. Here they remain often for over a year. Ernie was especially reluctant to leave home, finally leaving his parents’ territory 19 months after fledging his nest.

Whilst the other birds will cover thousands of kilometres as they cruise around Tasmania, Ernie was staying confined to Maria Island. However, Ernie stayed on Maria Island. Wedge-tailed eagles generally don’t like flying over open water, so it is likely that flying the 4–5 km between Maria Island and mainland Tasmania was a daunting prospect for Ernie.

After over two and a half years covering almost every corner of Maria Island, Ernie finally made a brave flight to the Tasmanian mainland. Picking a warm clear day with an easterly breeze, Ernie left the south of Maria and touched down near Pine Creek Beach on the east coast of Tasmania. He then travelled inland, spending a couple of months around the Mount Morrison Forest Reserve.

At five years old, Ernie is currently back on Maria Island and potentially searching for a place to establish his own territory.

Read more about Ernie and watch an animation of Ernie’s GPS data collected between January 2021 and February 2023 here!