The African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) can be seen flying throughout the Southern Africa skies and is known by many different names.
This beautiful animal, which is related to the North American Bald Eagle, is a fairly large eagle and can be identified by its distinctive black, brown and white plumage. Its length varies from 63 to 75 cm. The adult has a dark body and wings, contrasted with a white head and tail.
Widespread in Southern Africa (south of 16° N), its habitat is usually limited to larger rivers, lakes, pans and dams, with enough large trees for it to perch on. These eagles are also found near coastal lagoons and estuaries, but are absent in the south-western parts of the continent and areas of eastern Somalia where it is very arid.
The nest consists of a large pile of sticks, 120 to 180 cm in diameter, and 30 to 60 cm thick. It is usually build in the fork of a tree, near water, but also sometimes on a cliff ledge or in a low bush on a steep slope.
The sound of the African Fish Eagle has become synonymous with the sound of Africa. It has two distinct calls - in flight or perched, the sound is something like the American Bald Eagle. When near the nest, its call is more of a 'quock' sound - the female is a little shriller and less mellow than the male.
The African Fish Eagle is usually seen in pairs, whether it is inside or outside of their breeding season that stretches from March to September. They evenly share the kills made by either between the two of them.
As its name suggests, its main diet consists mostly of fish, sometimes dead, but mostly caught live. They are able to catch fish up to 1 kg in weight and in some exceptional circumstances up to 3 kg. Fish weighing over two and a half kilograms are not carried in flight, but planed along surface of water to shore.
Catfish and lungfish are caught most frequently. In some areas it also feeds off flamingos and other water birds. It is also known to eat carrion and in some rare circumstances will even feed off dassies, monkeys, monitor lizards, frogs, terrapins and insects.
Hunting takes place from where the eagle is perched and rarely while it is soaring in the sky. Stooping at fish, African Fish Eagle will catch their pray with their feet, usually within 15 cm of the water surface. They may also submerge at times.
The African Fish Eagle is classified as a kleptoparasite. This means that it steals prey from other birds, for example Goliath Herons, which are known to lose a percentage of their catch to Fish Eagles. They may also raid colonies of nesting waterbirds for young and eggs.
They spend more time perched than flying, usually sitting high in a tall tree from where they have a good view of the stretch of river, lakeshore or coastline. The African Fish Eagle usually settle for the day by 10am, having made their kill, although they will kill at any time of the day.
The African Fish Eagle does not need a big area to feed off. Near a lake with an abundant food supply, a pair may require less than a square mile of water to find enough food, whereas next to a small river, they may require a stretch of 25 km or more.