Thursday, April 24, 2014

Eagles of the World - The Vulturine Fish Eagle

Did you know that in addition to the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle (the two species indigenous to the U.S.) there are sixty-three other species of eagles (not including the sub-species)?  Callie Plakovic, the World Bird Sanctuary's Outreach Coordinator has embarked on a project to learn all she can about these amazing creatures, and will be sharing that information with our readers each month.

The Vulturine Fish Eagle (Gypohierax angolensis), commonly referred to as the Palm-Nut Vulture, is one of the few birds-of-prey that are known to incorporate fruit and vegetables as a staple in their diet. 

An adult Vulturine Fish Eagle (photo: the Wikimedia Files)

This species is identified by its beautiful, white plumage, black wings and tail feathers, and a reddish bare skin about the head, throat, and neck.  These raptors normally weigh anywhere between 3-4 pounds and are commonly mistaken for the African fish eagle and the Egyptian vulture, although it does not display a chestnut chest or white tail feathers, respectively. 

An adult Vulturine Fish Eagle in flight (photo: the Wikimedia files)

Male and female Vulturine Fish Eagles are almost identical with the exception that the female is just slightly larger than the male.  Juveniles are prominently brown with black wings until they gain their adult plumage at about three to four years old.

A juvenile Vulturine Fish Eagle feasting on its favorite food (photo:  the Wikimedia files)

This old world vulture, the smallest of the old world vultures, enjoys snacking on the husks of oil palm and raffia palm tree fruits and wild dates, which constitute 58 to 65 percent of the adult diet and up to 92 percent of the juvenile’s.  They often times are found hanging upside down below the fruit, where they pull the palm nut off the tree with their beaks and then hold it with their feet to eat.  Though, every so often they may also be found feeding on crabs, mollusks, locusts, fish, and on rare occasion even domestic poultry.  This hunter will seldom be found hunched over a carcass, unlike many African vultures.

These adaptive birds breed in forests and savannahs across Sub-Saharan Africa, staying within range of water and oil palm trees. 

A Vulturine Fish Eagle egg (photo: the Wikimedia files)

Breeding Vulturine Fish Eagles construct their nest high above the forest floor in tall trees.  They become strongly attached to their nesting site, remaining in its locality year round.  During their breeding cycle a single chocolate-brown egg is laid and incubated by both the male and female for a total period of four to six weeks.  Once the egg is hatched the chick will remain in the nest for around 85 to 90 days before fledging.

The Vulturine Fish Eagle is widespread across Africa, inhabiting areas from the Gambia River to Kenya and reaching as far south as northeast South Africa.  These birds are known to follow the fruit ripening of the oil palm tree, which is most common to coastal forests and mangrove swamps.  If you are looking to find a Vulturine Fish Eagle, follow the food and in return you may find one of these unique raptors.

Even though the World Bird Sanctuary does not have a Vulturine Fish Eagle we do have several other eagle species from around the world on display at our headquarters in Valley Park, Missouri.  Be sure to check these out when you visit.

Submitted by Callie Plakovik, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

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