African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle

African sea eagle

Haliaeetus vocifer
Population size
Life Span
12-40 yrs
2-3.6 kg
63-75 cm
2-2.4 m

The African fish eagle is a large species of eagle found throughout sub-Saharan Africa near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply. Adults are mostly brown in color with a white head 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. Their eyes are dark brown in color. The hook-shaped beak, ideal for a carnivorous lifestyle, is yellow with a black tip. The plumage of the juvenile is brown in color, and the eyes are paler compared to the adult. The feet have rough soles and are equipped with powerful talons to enable the eagle to grasp slippery aquatic prey. Its distinctive cry is, for many, evocative of the spirit or essence of Africa.


African fish eagles are native to sub-Saharan Africa, ranging over most of continental Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Several examples of places where they may be resident include the Orange River in South Africa and Namibia, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and Lake Malawi bordering Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique. African fish eagles occur in substantial numbers around the locations of Lake Victoria and other large lakes in central Africa, particularly the Rift Valley lakes. These large birds of prey require only open water with sufficient prey and a good perch. They inhabit grassland, swamps, marshes, tropical rainforest, fynbos, and even desert-bordering coastlines, such as that of Namibia. African fish eagles are quite common near freshwater lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, although they can sometimes be found near the coast at the mouths of rivers or lagoons. They are absent from arid areas with little surface water.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

African fish eagles are active during the day (diurnal). They live in pairs and spend most of their time perched on branches near the body of water. Being very efficient hunters, African fish eagles spend little time hunting their prey, which they swoop down upon from a perch in a tree. They snatch the prey from the water with their large, clawed talons and then fly back to their perch to eat the catch. African fish eagles have structures on their toes called spiricules that allow them to grasp fish and other slippery prey. Should African fish eagles catch prey over ten times their own body weight, it is too heavy to allow the eagle to get lift, so it instead drags the fish across the surface of the water until it reaches the shore. If it catches a fish too heavy to allow the eagle to sustain flight, it will drop into the water and paddle to the nearest shore with its wings. African fish eagles are known to steal the catch of other bird species (such as goliath herons); this behavior is known as kleptoparasitism. These birds communicate with each other vocally, usually in order to establish and maintain territories. Males have higher-pitched calls and females are less noisy. The typical call, shriller when uttered by males, is a "weee-ah, hyo-hyo or a heee-ah, heeah-heeah". When close to the nest they produce a soft “quock”.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

African fish eagles are carnivores (piscivores) and feed mainly on fish. However, they also prey on birds especially waterbirds such as ducks, ibis, storks, herons, greater and lesser flamingos, small turtles and terrapins, baby crocodiles, lizards, frogs, and carrion. Occasionally, they may even carry off mammalian prey, such as hyraxes and monkeys.

Mating Habits

dry season
42-45 days
5 months
1-3 eggs

African fish eagles are monogamous and mate for life. They breed during the dry season when water levels are low. Pairs often maintain two or more nests, which they frequently reuse. Because nests are reused and built upon over the years, they can grow quite large, some reaching 2 m (6.0 ft) across and 1.2 m (3.9 ft) deep. The nests are placed in a large tree and are built mostly of sticks and other pieces of wood. The female lays 1 to 3 eggs, which are primarily white with a few reddish speckles. Incubation is mostly done by the female, but the male incubates when the female leaves to hunt. Incubation lasts for 42 to 45 days before the chicks hatch. Chicks fledge when they are around 70 to 75 days old. Postfledgling dependence lasts up to three months, whereafter the juveniles become nomadic and may congregate in groups away from territorial adults.


Population threats

There are no major threats facing African fish eagles at present. However, their populations are negatively impacted by pollution and pesticides in water bodies and therefore in their fish prey; this could result in eggshell thinning.

Population number

According to the Wikipedia resource, the total population size of the African fish eagle is around 300,000 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers today remain stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The African fish eagle is the national bird of Namibia and Zambia.
  • As a result of its large range, the African fish eagle is known in many languages. Examples of names include: visarend in Afrikaans, nkwazi in Chewa, aigle pêcheur in French, hungwe in Shona, inkwazi in isiZulu, and 'ntšhu' (pronounced "ntjhu") in Northern Sotho.
  • The African fish eagle belongs to the Haliaeetus genus of sea eagles, which also includes the American bald eagle and the Eurasian white-tailed eagle. This is one of the most ancient genera among all living birds.
  • African fish eagles wake up with the serenade well known across Africa. Just before the sunrise, the air throughout the sub-Sahara fills with the chorus of singing pairs. This call serves as a territorial signal and is often known as the “Africa’s voice”.


1. African Fish Eagle on Wikipedia -
2. African Fish Eagle on The IUCN Red List site -

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