Eagles of the Lebombo concession

Kruger National Park | March 2018

Due to the great diversity of habitats in the Singita Kruger National Park Concession we are fortunate enough to see many of the southern African eagle species.

Eagles are large, powerfully built birds of prey, with heavy heads and beaks. Like all birds of prey, eagles have very large, hooked beaks for ripping flesh from their prey, strong, muscular legs, and powerful talons (that are extremely formidable weapons used to kill and grab hold of their prey).

Due to the size and power of many eagle species, they are ranked at the top of the food chain as “apex predators” in the avian world. They are the bird version of the big cats in Africa. They are hunters and the type of prey preferred varies according to species, for example the favoured prey of the African fish-eagle is predominantly fish and the brown snake-eagle likes to eat snakes. As “apex predators” eagles are extremely important in controlling numbers of their prey species. Many eagles feed on creatures that humans often consider pests, such as rodents, termites, grasshoppers, snakes and other reptiles etc.

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) kruger national park

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Most eagles scan from a perch on cliffs or in trees and fly down and grab prey, usually without landing, and take flight with it, so the prey can be carried to a perch and torn apart. Many eagles will also scavenge from carcasses and road-kills (e.g. bateleurs and tawny eagles). African hawk-eagles often chase birds and ambush them in woodlands. These birds are usually seen in pairs and are very striking with their black and white colouration.

 

Eagles’ eyes are extremely powerful, for example, it is estimated that the martial eagle has up to 3.6 times better vision than that of humans. This amazing eyesight enables eagles to spot potential prey from a very long distance.

Female eagles are generally larger than the males. Eagles normally build their nests, called eyries, in tall trees or on high cliffs. Many species lay two eggs, but the older, larger chick frequently kills its younger sibling once it has hatched. This is known as “Cainism”. The parents take no action to stop the one killing the other.

A few species of eagles in southern Africa are known to kill small mammals. In more forested areas of the Kruger Park one may find crowned eagles that regularly kill monkeys and small antelopes such as duikers. We do not see these eagles on our concession, but we do see martial eagles fairly regularly. These are majestic, large, powerful eagles that are known to, on occasion, kill and feed on small antelope, such as baby impalas, steenbok and klipspringers. A martial eagle was once recorded having killed a 37 kg (82 lb) duiker, 7–8 times heavier than itself. Their favourite prey, however, is probably guinea-fowl or monitor lizards.

Eagles are some of the largest birds of prey in Africa, excluding the vultures. Eagles in the genus Aquila, are usually superb soarers, and have relatively long, broad wings to capture the up-drafts of the thermals. Their primary feathers usually flare at the ends, looking like fingertips at the ends of the wings. These fingertips act as wing slots, stabilizing the movement of the wind over the feathers at really slow speeds, such as when they are soaring.

Some of the eagles that we see here are seasonal migrants, and we only see them during the summer months, for example Wahlberg’s eagles and lesser-spotted eagles. Others such as the African fish eagles, martial eagles and the tawny eagles are resident in the area throughout the year. During the summer months, particularly when the red-billed queleas are nesting in the concession, we see a great influx of eagles.

Wahlberg’s eagles (Aquila wahlbergi) kruger national park

Wahlberg’s eagles (Aquila wahlbergi)