African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
The African Fish Eagle or as it is scientifically known, Haliaeetus vocifer, can be seen throughout Southern Africa and is known by many varieties of names, in many languages. This includes the River eagle, Aigle pecheur, Pygargue vocifer, Afrikaanse visarend and so on. This fairly large bird is related to the North American Bald Eagle and can be easily identified by the distinct black, brown body and white head and tail. The length of the African Fish Eagle varies between 63 and 75 cm.
The Fish Eagles habitat is limited to mainly lakes, large rivers, pans and dams with surrounding trees for it to perch on. They can also be found near estuaries and coastal lagoons but are rarely spotted in the southwestern parts of Africa and areas on the eastern part of Somalia because the land is so arid. The African Fish Eagle makes its nest out of large piles of sticks, 30 to 60 cm deep and 120 to 180 cm in diameter. The nest is built usually near water at the fork of a tree, sometimes on a cliff ledge or on a steep slope on a low slope.
The beautiful and distinct call of the African Fish Eagle is synonymous with the sound of Africa and is very similar to the American Bald Eagle. There are two specific calls, the one is in flight and the other is when it is perched. When the male fish eagle nears the nest it makes a kind of mellow ‘quock’ sound where as the female has a more of a shriller sound.
The African Fish Eagle pairs up whether it is in or out of mating season, which goes from March to September. The pairs even go as far as sharing any kills that they make between the two of them. The African Fish Eagle is known as a kleptoparasite, which means that it will steal prey from another bird, like the Goliath Heron who loses a lot of its catch to Fish Eagles. They will also take advantage of nesting water birds for their eggs and young.
The main diet of the Fish Eagle is fish that they catch and occasionally when it is dead. They can catch a fish that weighs up to 1 kg in weight and now and again up to 3 kg’s. If the fish weighs more then two and a half kilograms the eagle will not carry it in flight but will plane it along the waters surface to shore. Fish eagles mainly catch lungfish and catfish and in some places will feed off flamingos and other water birds if the occasion presents itself. It has been known to eat dead animals and on very rare occasions they will even feed off monkeys, insects, frogs, dassies and so on. The hunt begins when the eagle leaves its perch to stoop and catch its prey with its feet about 15 cm from the waters surface. It’s not often that the African Fish Eagle will catch prey in the sky or submerge itself in the water.