The African Fish Eagle, or also known as the African Sea Eagle, is a large bird that is widely found across sub-Saharan Africa, where bodies of water and food sources are abundant. It is considered as the national bird of four African countries, Namibia, Zambia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe.
This bird species is classified under the genus Haliaeetus, the Latin term for “sea eagles.” The African Fish Eagle’s close relatives are the Sanford’s Sea Eagle, Bald Eagle, the critically endangered Madagascan Fish Eagle, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, and White-tailed Eagle. Like most fish eagles, the African Fish Eagle is a white-headed species. Its binomial name, Haliaeetus vocifer, was given by the French naturalist François Levaillant who called this bird “the vociferous one.”
Since the population of this bird species appears to be in a continuous rise across sub-Saharan Africa, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List tagged this sea bird species as Least Concern.
Its seven levels of scientific classification are as follows:
Species: H. vocifer
The physical characteristics of an African Fish Eagle
This bird species is a relatively large bird. A female African Fish Eagle is usually larger than a male African Fish Eagle, weighing 3.2-3.6 kg and 2-2.5 kg, respectively. There exists a sexual dimorphism in this bird species. Meaning, the two sexes of this bird species exhibit different physical characteristics aside from their sexual organs. Male African Fish Eagles usually have a wingspan of 6.6 ft., while females have 7.9 ft.
With its pure white head, neck, tail, and chest, this bird species can be easily recognizable. It also has a dark chestnut brown and black primaries and secondaries. Its tail is short. The cere and feet are yellow and the eyes are dark brown in color. Its head is featherless.
Juveniles usually have brown plumage, with paler eyes compared to adults. Their feet have rough soles and powerful talons that can grasp an aquatic prey.
Distribution and habitat of African Fish Eagles
As mentioned before, the African Fish Eagles are native to sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Mali, Sudan, and north Eritrea to the western Atlantic Ocean, eastern Indian Ocean, and South Africa. Non-breeding African Fish Eagles can be found in southwestern Africa, central Africa, and some parts of western Africa.
These birds frequent to freshwater lakes, reservoirs, rivers, mouths of rivers, and lagoons. They are common in Orange River in South Africa, Okavango Delta in Botswana, Lake Victoria, and in Lake Malawi. They also take refuge in grasslands, swamplands, tropical rainforests, and fynbos. They are absent in arid and desert zones, as they need lots of fishes to eat and trees to nest in.
The behavior of African Fish Eagles
This bird species mate for life. Breeding happens once a year, during the dry season when there are low water levels. A pair of African Fish Eagles participate in building two or more nests that can be reused for many years. They build their abodes by collecting twigs, pieces of woods, and sticks and situating it in a large, tall tree.
A female African Fish Eagle lays one to three eggs that are primarily white in color with red speckles. The pair takes turns in incubating the eggs. The incubation period lasts for an average of 45 days. These chicks fledge between 64-75 days. After 8 weeks of post-fledging, the African Fish Eagles will fly away from their parents.
African Fish Eagles are very territorial when it comes to their home turf. Oftentimes, you would see a bird perched alone, in pairs, or in small flocks. Although some sightings suggest that these birds congregate in flocks of more than 75 individuals.
Consequently, these birds are also known for their very distinct, loud cry, which is considered as a very iconic sound in Africa.
An African Fish Eagle’s diet
As its name suggests, the African Fish Eagle’s diet usually consists of a wide variety of fish. An African Fish Eagle does not submerge its head on the water to catch prey. Instead, it waits for the prey to appear on the surface of the water, snatches it using its strong talons, and flies up to a perch to eat its prey.
Other than fish, it also feeds on flamingos, small turtles, lizards, small reptiles, crocodile hatchlings, and monkeys.
Likewise, these birds have the ability to steal the prey that was caught by other predatory birds. This behavior is called kleptoparasitism.
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