Bird of the week – Week 30 : African hawk-eagle

We returned to our townhouse in Windhoek one Sunday morning and noticed two African hawk-eagles perched on a cliff that overlooks the dry riverbed nearby. We were quite lucky to see them, for in spite of their size they are quite inconspicuous when perched.  I collected my camera and had time for just one shot of the birds at rest before they took to the sky, circled once, allowing me a few more hasty photographs, and were gone. It was a rare treat, for we had not seen them before in this area, and we have not seen them since.
As eagles go, the African hawk-eagle is not particularly large with a length of about 65 cm, but with a wingspan approaching one-and-half metres it is not exactly small. So, medium-sized then, for an eagle. The upper parts are dark, almost black, and the under parts are white heavily streaked with black; from below the under wing coverts are seen to be black with white spots; the under wing flight feathers are white and have a broad black  trailing edge. The feathers on the legs are plain white; the iris is yellow; the bill black; and the legs are greenish-yellow. Sexes are similar, with the female being larger than the male.
It is regarded as uncommon to fairly common and is distributed through a large part of Africa, from south of the Sahara to south of the Tropic of Capricorn, preferring open woodland and hilly country and avoiding dense evergreen forests.
African hawk-eagles feed largely on birds, apparently favouring guinea fowl and francolins, which may explain their presence near our home as there are large numbers of both these species resident in the area. The are usually found in pairs and may hunt from their perch or may hunt while soaring or even capture prey at a watering spot.
They have quite a range of calls, including an almost musical “klu-klu-klu-klueee”. The hawk-eagle in monogamous and their nest is a platform of sticks about 1 m diameter, usually in the fork of a large tree. The female lays an average of 2 eggs, which are chalky-white with dull red markings, and which hatch after an incubation period of around 44 days. Only one chick is usually raised, as it is common for the first chick that is hatched to kill the younger one.
The scientific name for the African hawk-eagle is Hieraaetus spilogaster; Hieraaetus from the Greek for a hawk or falcon, and spilogaster from the Greek for a spot on the belly. This a hawk with a spotted belly, which is pretty apt, really.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *