Scientific Name: Haliaeetus vocifer Afrikaans Name: Visarend Zulu Name: iNkwazi
These eagles inhabit Africa’s larger waterways, estuaries, lakes and dams where they hunt fish from perches that overlook the water. Their presence in fact acts a barometer as to the quality of our water systems. Although they catch mainly fish, they are notorious pirates and will steal from herons or cormorants. Their very broad wings provide maximum lift to enable them to rise off the water with a heavy fish. Their feet have rough soles and are equipped with powerful talons in order to enable the eagle to grasp slippery aquatic prey. Should the African Fish Eagle catch a fish over 1.8 kg (4 pounds) it will be too heavy to allow the eagle to get lift, so it will instead drag the fish across the surface of the water until it reaches the shore. If it catches a fish that is too heavy to even allow the eagle to sustain flight, it will drop into the water and paddle to the nearest shore with its wings. While this species mainly subsists on fish, it is opportunistic and may take a wider variety of prey such as waterbirds. Its distinctive cry is, for many, evocative of the spirit or essence of Africa.
The African Fish Eagle on display at the Sanctuary is called Neptune. He fell foul to the industrial development around Richards Bay and a collision with an aerial cable amputated his one wing. Fish eagles have very broad wings to provide maximum lift, enabling them to rise off the water with heavy fish. As apex species they can act as barometers as to the quality of our water systems and their presence in an area means that the lower levels of the eco-system are still intact and healthy.
The African Fish Eagle is a large bird, and the female, at 3.2-3.6 kg (7-8 lbs) is larger than the male, at 2-2.5 kg (4.4-5.5 lbs). This is typical of sexual dimorphism in birds of prey. Males usually have a wingspan of about 2 m (6 feet), while females have wingspans of 2.4 m (8 feet). The body length is 63–75 cm (25–30 in). The adult is very distinctive in appearance with a mostly brown body and large, powerful, black wings. The head, breast, and tail of African Fish Eagles are snow white, with the exception of the featherless face, which is yellow. The eyes are dark brown in colour. The hook-shaped beak, ideal for a carnivorous lifestyle, is yellow with a black tip. The plumage of the juvenile is brown in colour, and the eyes are paler compared to the adult.