Saturday, October 4, 2014

Eagles of the World: The Congo Serpent Eagle

The Congo Serpent Eagle is a special bird of prey that is found in Western and Central Africa.
Range of the Congo Serpent Eagle (from the wikipedia files)

Its range stretches anywhere from Sierra Leone south to Angola and west to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  These birds can be found in dense primary  forests below 3,000 ft. elevation, where they are skilled at hunting the dark understory.

Illustration above from the wikipedia files 

A few distinct characteristics help to identify this raptor.  The Congo Serpent Eagle is known for its short rounded wings and long rounded tail.  It is a medium sized bird, characterized by a white breast covered with dark circular speckles.  Its wingspan reaches a total length of about 37-42 inches across.  The feathers on its head are slightly pointed, giving this raptor a slight crest.  They have yellow legs, a light brown tail with about 5 or 6 broad black stripes, and talons that are short and sharp.  On average, females are about 3% larger than the males.  Juvenile Congo Serpent Eagles have a more pale grayish-brown appearance when it comes to their heads and tails.  In addition, they tend to be more darkly barred than the adults.

This particular bird of prey is also known for its vocalization in that it has one of the most heard vocalizations among species in its habitat.  This raptor is known for its cat-like meowing sound.  It also has a low, mournful, nasally “cow-cow-cow” at intervals over extended periods of time.
Congo Serpent Eagles hunt from a perch in the understory (photo: the wikipedia files)

These raptors, being Serpent Eagles, have a different diet than the Sea and Fish Eagles I have previously discussed.  They prey on snakes, lizards (a favorite being chameleons), toads, and even some small mammals.  Their keen vision helps them to hunt with extreme precision in the dark understory.  In order to capture their prey they perch at an elevated level in the understory, swoop down, and then ambush their prey.  The Congo Serpent Eagle will then strike their prey with their feet repetitively to make sure it’s dead before devouring their kill.

These birds of prey breed any time between June and December throughout their range, although little else is known about their reproduction habits.  They rank as a species of least concern on the conservation status scale due to their increasing population and vast range.

Submitted by Callie Plakovic, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

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