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African Fish Eagle

Haliaeetus vocifer

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63 - 75cm

2 - 2.4m

2 - 3.6kg

15 - 25 yrs

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The African fish eagle - often known as the African sea eagle - is a large species of eagle found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of its large range, it is known locally by many names, such as visarend in Afrikaans or inkwazi in isiZulu. It is considered the African cousin of the bald eagle, with which it shares its distinctive white head.

Least Concern

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LC

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Its heavily contrasting plumage features a distinctively brown body with a snow-white head and breast, drawing parallels with the bald eagle. It has large, powerful black wings, a white tail and a yellow, featherless face. The beak is hook-shaped with a black tip and its eyes are dark brown in adults and slightly paler in juveniles.

What Does it Look Like?

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What Does it Sound Like?

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It has an incredibly distinctive cry which, for many on the continent, is evocative of the spirit and essence of Africa. The call is described variously as a “weee-ah hyo-hyo” or “heee-ah, heee-ah” and, when performed by males, the sound is much shriller. Their territorial call is repeated by other African fish eagles in the vicinity to ward off intruders.

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As its name suggests, it feeds mainly on fish, which it catches using structures on its toes called spiricules which prevent prey from slipping. It usually swoops down to snatch fish out the water, but sometimes steals the catches of other birds in a behaviour known as kleptoparasitism. Besides fish, it may also feed on ducks, small reptiles, frogs and sometimes even carrion.

What Does it Eat?

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Where Does it Nest?

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Pairs mate for life and maintain at least two nest sites which they reuse over the years. These are usually built in a large tree from sticks and other pieces of wood. The female lays 1-3 white eggs with reddish speckles which are incubated for four weeks. Typically, all chicks will be reared successfully and fully fledged at 3 months old.

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They are found south of the Sahara Desert in areas with large bodies of open water, such as the Orange River in South Africa and Namibia, Lake Malawi and – particularly - Lake Victoria. It can be found in many habitat types including grassland, swamps, marshes, tropical rainforest, fynbos, and is quite commonly found near reservoirs.

Where Does it Live?

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What is its Status?

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Some bodies of water have reportedly been poisoned by organochlorine pesticides which, after eating a contaminated fish, can lead to eggshell thinning and therefore a reduced hatch success rate. Although this effect has been observed, it has not yet affected the population, which otherwise is large enough for the species to be considered of Least Concern.

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