African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
You needn’t be a serious birder to recognise the yodelling yelp of this striking raptor. Often described as the sound of Africa, the sound evokes lazy rivers and palm-fringed lakeshores, often in duet with the grunting of hippos. And the bird itself, in its black, white and chestnut finery, is equally unmistakable.
- The African fish eagle is not a ‘true’ eagle but belongs to the Haliaeetus genus of sea eagles, alongside seven other species worldwide that include 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 are kleptoparasites, which is to say they habitually steal prey from other species. Common victims of this piratical behaviour include goliath herons and saddle-billed stork.
- A fish eagle’s toes are coated in sharp barbs, called spiricules, which help it to grasp fish and other slippery prey.
- Fish are not the only item on the menu of this versatile predator. Other prey includes ducks, terrapins, crocodiles, small waterfowl and even – in the soda lakes of East Africa – flamingos.
- This bird’s conspicuous nature and charismatic presence ensure it figures prominently in the folklore and heraldry of several nations. You will find it on the coat of arms of Namibia, Zambia and South Sudan.