Winton Wetlands is a great place to view a wide range of Victoria’s birds of prey, such as eagles, falcons, kites and goshawks. Birdlife Australia, Murray Goulburn Branch has recorded 14 raptors during their bird surveys here.
Look skyward for grassland hunters
As top predators, these birds play an important role in the ecosystem. Birds of prey are attracted to the wide open spaces at Winton Wetlands and to the variety of habitats found here. Some birds of prey hunt over water, for example to White-bellied Sea Eagle, Swamp Harrier and Whistling Kite, while goshawks and sparrowhawks are woodland hunters. Other birds of prey find their food in the grasslands. The following three species are all grassland hunters, but they employ completely different methods for finding food.
The Brown Falcon
The Brown Falcon is a medium sized raptor, 40 to 50cm in length, and is a common resident at the Winton Wetlands. Brown Falcons vary in colour. Some are dark brown all over, but most are reddish brown on the back and wings, and pale underneath. Although they are falcons they are not particularly fast fliers. In flight, their wings are rounded and the tail is often fanned.
A bird of the grasslands and open woodlands, the Brown Falcon is often seen perched on electricity poles, wires or fences. Look for them along Boggy Bridge Road or anywhere with a suitable perch. They eat a wide variety of food, including lizards, snakes, insects and small rabbits.
The Wedge-tailed Eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey, with a wingspan that can exceed two metres. These birds have amazing eyesight, which is seven times better than human sight. This enables them to soar, often at great height, scanning the ground for rabbits and hares, their favourite food. They also eat other animals, birds and carrion.
Look skyward for a large, dark bird gliding with upswept wings. The tail is a distinctive long wedge shape. These birds often soar in pairs, and can sometimes be seen resting in large trees around the wetland.
The Nankeen Kestrel
The Nankeen Kestrel is Australia’s smallest falcon, at 30 to 35cm in length. It is easy to identify because it hunts for food by hovering. The Nankeen Kestrel is a chestnut or tan colour on the back, and has long, pointed wings which allow it to fly fast. The only other bird of prey at the Winton Wetlands that hunts by hovering is the Black-shouldered Kite, which has black and white plumage.
Flight behaviour – hunting by hovering
Look for Nankeen Kestrel along roadsides, as they hover above long grass, looking for mice, lizards and insects. They face into the wind and flap their wings quickly to remain stationary, before plunging to the ground to grab its prey.
Kathy Costello, Birdlife Australia, Murray Goulburn Branch
Birds of Prey of Australia by Stephen Debus