Tag Archives: African fish eagle

Dinner time in the park

Africa is not called the ‘Dark Continent’ for nothing.  Life is cheap in Africa and nowhere is that more evident than in a game reserve.  Spend a couple of days driving through any one of our reserves and you will see death at every turn.  It may be a bird eating a lizard or a mouse, a snake eating a bird or something much larger like a cheetah eating a buck.  Death stalks almost every animal and very few are privileged to live without predators.  You’d think that it would mainly be the smaller birds and animals that are at risk, but we found that even the enormous elephant is vulnerable and part of the food chain.  On an early morning game drive in Chobe, Botswana, we came across a fresh carcass of a young elephant that had been attacked by lions during the night.

Breakfast time in Chobe

Elephants aren’t normally killed by lions as there are animals that are much easier for them to prey upon.  However, we saw no less than three elephant carcasses in the space of about three days in Chobe recently, which showed that perhaps there is a new trend happening with the lions there. These kills certainly provide food for many different animals besides the lions.  Apart from the jackals, hyenas and vultures that normally feast on carcasses, we also noticed a Tawny eagle protecting his piece of the action.

Tawny eagle joins the feast

Even a little mongoose came along to see what was in it for him.

Mongoose at elephant carcass

There is seldom a dull moment in Chobe and you have to keep your camera at the ready all the time.  Tawny eagles are well worth keeping an eye on.  We saw this one swoop down and catch a francolin, which it took up into a tree.  Once it started eating, the feathers were literally raining down.

Tawny eagle catches a francolin

The raptors are always hungry.  African fish eagles are ever-present and one can usually find one or two eating a fish.

African fish eagle with a catch

We were surprised to see that even the Yellow-billed kite is not averse to fishing.  This one (not photographed in Chobe, but at Kalizo Lodge) was an excellent fisherman as he perched above our tent every day with a fresh fish.

Yellow-billed kite with a fish

I think he fared better than many of the local anglers at the campsite.

 

Bird of the week – Week 7 : African fish-eagle

Bird of the week – Week 7 : African fish-eagle
Picture this. Reclining on a sofa-bed in the open air pub at Oddballs Camp in the Okavango Delta, beer in hand, looking out over the water in the late afternoon sunshine. In the distance the classic cry of the African fish-eagle, one of the most easily recognizable sounds of the African bushveld. The next cry is a somewhat louder. The bird appears, flying low above the water; it swoops and in split second it has a fish firmly gripped in the vice of the talons of one foot. In a few more seconds it has disappeared from view, leaving Jane and me with a powerful and enduring memory.
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The African fish-eagle features on the coat-of-arms of Namibia and is also the national bird of both Zimbabwe and Zambia. They are found, usually in pairs, on most of the larger rivers, lakes, pans and dams of Africa, south of the Sahara, and also in many coastal lagoons and estuaries.
They are big birds, the females slightly larger than the males, being up to 73 cm in length and with a wingspan of over 2.3 metres. They are most often seen during daylight hours perched on tall trees near water.
(1)
The well-known call is most commonly heard at dawn, with the male and female sometimes performing a duet, but they call at any time of the day, often while in flight. As described above, they stoop to catch fish, usually of less than 1 kg in weight, with their feet, usually taking them within 10 or 15 cm of the surface without even slowing their flight
(2)
Rather less dramatically, fish-eagles also eat carrion, eggs, nestlings and even occasionally adult water-birds, frogs, terrapins, insects and rarely even dassies and monkeys.
The fish-eagles mate for life and their nest, which they re-use from year to year, is an untidy bowl of sticks, lined with grass and leaves, high above the ground, usually in the fork of a tree near the water. Most commonly two or three eggs are laid, but often only one chick will survive.
(3)
The scientific name of the African fish-eagle is Haliaeetus vocifer; haliaeetus being from the Greek words “hals” meaning “salt” or “the sea” and “aetos” meaning “eagle”, and vocifer from the Latin “vocifero” meaning to “cry out aloud”. Hence “the Sea-eagle that cries out aloud” – Perfect!

Picture this. Jane and I are reclining on a sofa-bed in the open air pub at Oddballs Camp in the Okavango Delta, beer in hand, looking out over the water in the late afternoon sunshine. In the distance we hear the classic cry of the African fish-eagle, one of the most easily recognizable sounds of the African bushveld. Then a second cry, somewhat louder. The huge brown and white eagle appears, flying low above the water; it swoops and in split second it has a fish firmly gripped in the vice of the talons of one foot. In a few more seconds it has disappeared from view, leaving Jane and me with a powerful and enduring memory. What a wonderful moment!

African fish-eagle

The African fish-eagle features on the coat-of-arms of Namibia and is also the national bird of both Zimbabwe and Zambia. These classic symbols of Africa are found, usually in pairs, on most of the larger rivers, lakes, pans and dams of Africa  south of the Sahara, and also in many coastal lagoons and estuaries.

They are big birds, the females slightly larger than the males, being up to 73 cm in length and with a wingspan of over 2.3 metres. They are most often seen during daylight hours perched on tall trees near water where they spend much of their time.

African fish-eagle

The well-known call is most commonly heard at dawn and at dusk, with the male and female sometimes performing a duet, but they call less frequently at any time of the day, often while in flight. As described above, they stoop to catch fish, usually those of less than 3 kg in weight, seizing the fish in their powerful talons while their legs are thrown well forward, usually taking those within 10 or 20 cm of the surface of the water without even slowing their flight.

African fish-eagle

Rather less dramatically, fish-eagles also eat carrion, eggs, nestlings and even occasionally adult water-birds, frogs, insects and rarely even dassies and monkeys. They are very agile and are quite capable of taking birds in flight. They are also not above stealing fish from other birds, including pelicans and storks. Kleptoparasitise, if you want the correct word for this chicanery.

The fish-eagles mate for life and their nest, which they re-use from year to year, is an untidy bowl of sticks up to 1.5 metres in diameter, lined with grass and leaves, located high above the ground, usually in the fork of a tree near the water. Most commonly two or three eggs are laid and they hatch after an incubation period of about 45 days, but often only one chick will survive. Life expectancy is estimated to be around 20 years.

African fish-eagle

The scientific name of the African fish-eagle is Haliaeetus vocifer; “haliaeetus” being from the Greek words “hals” meaning “salt” or “the sea” and “aetos” meaning “eagle”, and vocifer from the Latin “vocifero” meaning to “cry out aloud”. Hence “the Sea-eagle that cries out aloud” – Perfect!