Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Eagles of the World: The African Fish Eagle

The African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), not to be confused with the Bald Eagle which looks similar in appearance, largely resides in areas of Sub Saharan Africa that are in close proximity to large bodies of water.  This is due to the fact that these large birds of prey mainly gorge on fish and rely on the abundant food supply that these bodies of water provide.
An adult African Fish Eagle (photo: the wikipedia files)

A female African Fish Eagle can weigh upwards of 7-8 pounds, making these eagles one of the larger species of raptor.  Males have an average wingspan of 6 feet, whereas females average about 8 feet.  These birds are characterized by their white head, chest, and tail.  In contrast, their wings, body, and eyes are dark in color.  They have a hook-shaped beak that is yellow with a dark tip and a bright yellow face.  Juveniles have a similar appearance with scattered brown plumage and lighter coloration in their eyes.  Vocalizations from the African Fish Eagle are aweeh-ah, hyo-hyo, or a hee-ah, heeah-heeah.

An African Fish Eagle dragging a heavy fish across the water (photo: the wikipedia files)

The African Fish Eagle mainly feeds on fresh water fish.  The pads on the bottoms of their feet and toes have rough spiracles, which allow them to grasp fish and other slippery prey.  The birds swipe prey out of the water and then carry their catch to a safe place to feed.   When catching prey that is large these eagles will drag their catch across the surface of the water to the shore.  In the event these birds are unable to drag the heaviest of prey they will drop into the water and paddle to the shore with the catch using their wings.  These raptors have also been known to feed on waterfowl, baby crocodiles, lizards, monitor lizards, frogs, hyraxes (small mammals whose closest relative is the elephant), monkeys, carrion, and occasionally domestic chickens.

African Fish Eagles are a monogamous species that are known to mate for life.  The breeding season for these raptors is during the dry season when water levels are low.  These birds usually maintain two or more nests, which they often reuse time and time again.  Because of this these nests, made up of mostly sticks and other pieces of wood, can grow to be quite large.  Some reach almost six feet across and four feet in depth.

An African Fish Eagle egg (photo: the wikipedia files)

Females lay about 1-3 white eggs with red speckles.  Eggs are usually incubated by the female for anywhere between 42-45 days before hatching.  The chicks will depend on their parents for upwards of three months after leaving the nest.  The total time spent in the nest from hatch to fledge is approximately 70-75 days.

A juvenile African Fish Eagle (photo: the wikipedia files)

Under the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) , these raptors are listed as “least concern”, giving these birds a healthy reputation for thriving in their environment.  Today, their population number sits at about 300,000 throughout their range.

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary be sure to take a walk down the exhibit line just past the wildlife hospital.  Even though we do not have African Fish Eagles, we do have a number of their cousins, the Bald Eagle and also a White-tailed Sea Eagle from northern Europe.

Submitted by World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator, Callie Plakovic

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