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Eagle, African Fish

African Fish Eagle looking for prey at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Tad Motoyama

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus vocifer

The African fish eagle is known for its loud, distinctive call, which can be heard for miles and has earned it the name “the voice of Africa." It is said that once you’ve heard the fish eagle’s call, you never forget the sound.

You’ve heard the saying “everyone has a twin”? The African fish eagle, also known as the African sea eagle, is one of those members of the animal kingdom that has a twin – the North American bald eagle! This similarity of species on opposite sides of the world is known as parallel evolution.

No Place Like Home

Like most raptors, African fish eagles mate for life. Even so, the male must win the heart of the female each year, and this bird does it in quite a spectacular fashion. The pair meet in mid-air, lock talons, and free-fall until they separate just above the ground. They do this over and over until they mate. Then it’s off to the nest they’ve called home for many years. Both help to build and fix 1 or 2 nests during their life together. Over time, the nests can reach up to 6 feet across as they add branches and twigs annually. Two white or mottled eggs are laid. The female is the primary brooder, sitting on (incubating) the eggs for approximately 45 days, but the male helps out and gives his mate an occasional break. However, during incubation the male’s primary job is to hunt and bring her food. Once the eggs have hatched, both male and female hunt and care for the nestlings, even after they have fledged (learned to fly)!

African fish eagles are listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The African fish eagle is found along freshwater rivers, lakes and reservoirs throughout Africa, from the southern edge of the Sahara Desert south to the tip of Africa. They can also be found along the coasts at the mouths of rivers or inlets where trees are present.

They eat fish!  They will also prey on water birds and eat their fill of carrion.  The African fish eagle will sometimes steal fish from other birds, a habit also found in its North American cousin, the bald eagle. Even though the African fish eagle is an expert fisher and hunter, sometimes it’s much easier – especially for the younger birds – to just steal a meal!

Eagles are large raptors (birds of prey) and the female is larger than the male. The female’s wingspan can reach up to 8 feet and the male’s wingspan up to 6 feet. The plumage (feathers) on the body is brown and the wing feathers are black.  The head, chest, and tail are white, the beak is hooked and yellow with a black tip. They have long black talons and little spike-like growths on the bottom of their feet that help to hold on to those slippery fish!

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