This year, please join BirdLife South Africa and partners in celebrating the most familiar and best-loved bird of prey (raptor) in Africa, the African Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer. With its evocative cry and distinctive plumage, the African Fish-Eagle is an ideal ambassador not only for all birds of prey across South Africa, but also for our wetlands and rivers.
The call of the African Fish-Eagle is often known as 'the call of Africa'. Widespread throughout southern Africa, the African Fish-Eagle is most frequently seen perched high in a tall tree, from where they have a good view of their territory – a stretch of river or lake shore.
As its name suggests, the African Fish-Eagle feeds extensively on fish; about 90% of the diet is fish. It is well-known for expertly catching fish by short, swift swoops from low above the water surface, with feet outstretched forwards. It is also known to eat carrion and is classified as a kleptoparasite, because it readily steals prey from other birds such as Osprey, Goliath Heron, storks, kingfishers and pelicans.
These magnificent eagles breed during the dry season, when water levels are lower. They pair for life, and build and maintain one or two nests within their territory. One to three eggs are laid, hatching after six weeks. Due to the Cane and Abel syndrome, a practice of the eldest chick killing the younger ones, rarely more than one chick survives.
Despite the loss of wetlands, the pollution of rivers, and increased human habitation and intensified agriculture encroaching on riparian vegetation, the African Fish-Eagle population appears to be stable. This eagle has benefited from anthropogenic changes, including the construction of impoundments that have been stocked with fish, and the spread of exotic trees in which it can nest. At the apex of the food-chain, African Fish-Eagles can be a useful indicator of the health of our wetlands, rivers, dams and estuaries.
During 2012, BirdLife South Africa will use a variety of methods to inform people about the African Fish-Eagle. Through the distribution of the African Fish-Eagle poster and the development and dissemination of lesson plans and activities, schoolchildren are learning about this iconic eagle and the plight of our wetlands.
(This article was published in theMpumalanga Wetland Forum Newsletter)