Friday, 1 February 2013

African Fish Eagle

order : Falconiformes      Genus & Species : Accipitridae     Family : Haliaeetus vocifer

After awakening the continent with its song, the African fish eagle strikes quickly to land its daily meal, then retires to its perch to closely guard its territory from intruders. Adept at fishing, the keen-eyed African fish eagle spots prey from high on its perch, then dives to “hook” its victim using dagger-sharp talons. They found in sub-Saharan Africa; from Senegal and Gambia in the west, east through Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. 

Habitat : Whether lake, river or creek, water always abounds in the African fish eagle’s territory. Near Lake Victoria or the lakes of Kenyan Rift Valley, a pair of eagles may require less than 1 sq. mile of water to find enough food. If the pair inhabits an area next to a small river, however, they may need 15 miles of water. The African fish eagle spends most of the day perched in a large tree that overlooks the water, preferring fig and acacia trees. 

Food & Feeding : The fish eagle hunts its prey from perches overlooking the water. If it is lucky, it will catch two live fish in about 10 minutes and be done hunting for the day. Its favorites are catfish and lungfish, and it will occasionally snatch these from herons, pelicans and storks. Young flamingos, ducks, storks and herons are targets, as are lizards and turtles. The fish eagle plucks feathers from birds and scales fish before eating the animals. After food is ingested, it can be stored in a fleshy pouch in the neck called a crop; this pouch will hold over 2 lbs. of food. It allows the eagle to gorge itself when large amounts of food are available, then regurgitate it for later consumption. 

Behavior : Awakening before dawn, the eagle begins its serenade, a song well known across Africa. About 40 minutes before sunrise, the air throughout the sub-Sahara fills with the chorus of singing pairs. The calls serve as a territorial signal. The “tune” may be produced in flight while the eagle searches for potential prey. When perched and singing, the eagle theatrically throws its head back and belts out its song, which bears some resemblance to the call of the American bald eagle.The African fish eagle sings this loud, cheerful song throughout the day, often in female-initiated duets. A pair will normally remain together after the breeding season. 

Breeding : During the breeding season displays become very intense. Rare among other eagles but common among sea and fish eagles, the whirling ritual occurs when a courting pair soars, locks claws and then falls wing over wing toward the ground. The birds will not release until the display is over, which occasionally can end in death if the entwined birds crash to the ground. When the female is ready to mate, she lowers her head and raises her tail so that her whole body is parallel to the ground.The male then jumps or flies onto her back.The pair usually mates for life.They build their large stick-nest in a tree and use this nest year after year, adding new material to it for each breeding season. 

Bill : The very powerful hooked beak is rarely used for killing. Instead, it shreds and tears prey into smaller pieces. 
Skull : The skull is lightweight, with reduced jaws, large eye sockets and no teeth, for better flight efficiency. 
Feet : The rough spicules on the soles of its bright yellow feet help the African fish eagle grip its slippery prey. 
Juvenile : Lacking full adult plumage, the brown, immature eagle is often confused with the osprey and palm-nut vulture. 

Weight : Male 4–6 lbs.; female 7–9 lbs. 
Length : 26-33" 
Wingspan : 7' 
Sexual Maturity : 4 years
Breeding Season : Varies with location 

The call of the African fish eagle is so widely heard that it is known as “the voice of Africa.”

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