African Fish Eagle Fact File

Haliaeetus vocifer

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

2-3.5kg

(4.5-7.75lbs)

Length

63-73cm

(25-29in)

Lifespan

Wild 24 years

Captive 24 years

Diet

Carnivores

Fish, Carrion

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

Swooping Across Africa!

African fish eagles are found across Africa where they will live near waterbodies in which they can hunt for fish and other prey such as waterbirds. They can also hunt carrion in dry areas.

They are equipped with sharp talons and their legs do not have feathers on them which makes it easier for them to reach in to the water and grab their prey.

Pairs of African fish eagles will form for life. They live together year round and will share food that they catch. The pair work together to raise their young.

This species is abundant and may be increasing in its range. They have been assisted by the creation of dams but are also impacted by chemicals from farms which cause their eggs to thin. This issue may increasingly threaten them in the future.

Read on to learn more about these beautiful birds.

Appearance

What does the African Fish Eagle look like?

Adult African fish eagles have brown feathers across the lower body and wings. On the upper wings, breast and head the feathers are white. Their tail feathers are also white.

Protruding from the head is a strong, black beak with yellow at the base. This is curved downwards at the tip. Their eye is colored golden brown.

The feet are colored yellow and do not have feathers on them. Their sharp talons are colored black.

An average African fish eagle measure 63-73cm (25-29in) long with a weight between 2 and 3.5kg (4.5-7.75lbs). Their wings extend out to between 2 and 2.4m (6.6ft and 7.9ft) across with females tending to have wider wings compared to males.

Adaptations

How does the African Fish Eagle survive in its habitat?


African fish eagles have large talons which are razor sharp and allow them to grip on to their prey and carry it to a spot where they can safely eat.

These birds do not have feathers on the lower leg which prevents them from becoming waterlogged as they enter the water to catch fish. This would make them too heavy to fly away.

Along the underside of the feet are small spines. These assist with their grip on the slippery skin of the fish.

Both of these adaptations combine to give them the ability to fly while holding prey weighing up to 1.5kg (3.3lbs). Larger prey may be captured and is dragged to shore and eaten there rather than being carried away.

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Diet

What does the African Fish Eagle eat?

African fish eagles are primarily carnivores. As suggested by their name they primarily feed on fish. Small mammals, amphibians, reptiles such as small crocodiles and waterfowl are also taken. They have been observed to forage for carrion.

These birds only have success in one of every eight hunting attempts.

They are commonly seen perched on a tree branch from which they can keep watch over their territory and see food that they can swoop on to. Pairs may hunt together and share any kills which they make.

To help catch food they fly towards the sun as they make their approach which prevents casting a shadow and stops the prey from becoming aware of their presence.

This species is listed as a kleptoparasite meaning they will take food from other birds.

Learn more about the African Fish Eagle in this video from Animals Descriptions on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the African Fish Eagle?

Africa is the native home of the African fish eagle. Here they enjoy a wide range which takes in these countries – Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; The Democratic Republic of the Congo; Côte d’Ivoire; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Habitat

Where can the African Fish Eagle survive?

These animals live near water in wetlands and forests. They tend to congregate around calm water such as swamps, lakes and floodplains.

Juveniles may be sighted away from water as they disperse and form their own habitat. These survive primarily on carrion until they can find a territory of their own.

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Credit: Public Domain

Reproduction

How does the African Fish Eagle produce its young?

Breeding takes place during the dry season in their range. The dates of this vary slightly due to the wide range of the species.

During courtship these birds will perform impressive dives during which the pair lock their talons together.

Their nest is located in a tree and is a large platform of sticks, reeds and wood in a tree. In to this they deposit a clutch of between 1 and 3 eggs. A single clutch is produced by a pair each year.

As humans expand in to their territory these animals are establishing nests in urban areas.

The eggs are incubated for 42-45 days which is primarily completed by the female. She will carefully turn the egg at regular intervals to ensure it is warmed evenly. The chicks fledge at between 67 and 75 days old. They require care from their parents for a further three months.

Juvenile African fish eagles are covered by mottled brown feathers and it may take up to five years for this species to take on its adult coloration. Juveniles also have shorter tails than adults.

Sexual maturity is achieved at five years old.

Behavior

What does the African Fish Eagle do during its day?

These birds have a loud ringing call which is produced both while in flight or when perched. The call of the male has a higher pitch than that of the female.

Their call carries for long distances sometimes being heard miles away.

They are mostly territorial and will defend this against other birds. When food sources are plentiful they have been seen to tolerate other birds and up to 75 birds may be seen sharing the same space at these times.

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What stops the African Fish Eagle from surviving and thriving?

Eggs and hatchlings may be preyed upon by snake, monitor lizards and monkeys.

A full estimate of the African fish eagles population has not been established but at this time they are thought to be stable across their range. They may be increasing their population in some areas.

These animals seem to have benefited in their range from the building of dams.

In some areas they are affected by eggshell thinning caused by a build-up of chemicals in the water and thus their prey.

They also suffer from entanglement in fishing gear.

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Quick facts

African fish eagles are listed as the national bird of Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Sudan.

These birds are known as the ‘voice of Africa’ due to their distinctive call.

The “vocifer” portion of their scientific name is a reference to their call.

References

Orban, D. 2011. “Haliaeetus vocifer” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 25, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Haliaeetus_vocifer/

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens (LA Zoo). 2022. African Fish Eagle – Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens (LA Zoo). [online] Available at: <https://www.lazoo.org/explore-your-zoo/our-animals/birds/eagle-african-fish/> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Krugerpark.co.za. 2022. African Fish Eagle – Southern Africa Bird Guide. [online] Available at: <https://www.krugerpark.co.za/africa_fish_eagle.html> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Peregrinefund.org. 2022. African Fish Eagle | The Peregrine Fund. [online] Available at: <https://www.peregrinefund.org/explore-raptors-species/eagles/african-fish-eagle> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

2022. African Fish-Eagles, Haliaeetus vocifer. [online] Available at: <https://www.marinebio.org/species/african-fish-eagles/haliaeetus-vocifer/> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Mpalalive.org. 2022. Mpala Live! Field Guide: African Fish Eagle | MpalaLive. [online] Available at: <https://www.mpalalive.org/field_guide/african_fish_eagle> [Accessed 25 April 2022].

BirdLife International. 2020. Haliaeetus vociferThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22695115A174556979. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22695115A174556979.en. Accessed on 25 April 2022.

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