African Fish Eagle



The African fish eagle is a large raptor living in Central and Southern Africa. This bird is probably one of the most recognizable birds of prey in Africa. From certain views, this bird’s white head, black wings, and yellow beak make it look like a bald eagle, but from the view shown above, it looks much different. Its neck and chest are white, not just the head, and its lower body is brown. Another minor difference is that the fish eagle has a yellow “mask” around its eyes. The bald eagle does not have this. The many different colors of this bird make it almost unmistakable. One of this nicknames for this bird is “the voice of Africa” due to its distinctive call.


Their call is hard to describe, but it has been said that is sounds like “weee-ah hyo-hyo-hyo.” The call is made with the bird’s head thrown back, and it is said to be the most characteristic sound of African waterways. You can listen to an African fish eagle calling below.


Adult African fish eagles range from 25 to 30 inches (63-77 cm) in length. Their wingspan can be up to 83 inches (211 cm). That’s almost seven feet! Females, which are larger than males, weigh from seven to eight pounds (3.2-3.6 kg), while males weigh at most five and a half pounds (2.5 kg).


You can probably tell what this bird’s main food is just by looking at its name. That’s right, they love to eat fish. Just one African fish eagle can eat half a pound of fish each day! This may not seem like a whole lot, but remember, these birds are not extremely heavy. This would be like a 100 pounds person (45 kg) eating nine pounds (4.1 kg) of fish each day! One of the fish these eagles eat is the lungfish. Fish aren’t the only prey of these birds however. Hatchlings of other water birds including flamingos, herons, and egrets also fall prey to African fish eagles. Occasionally monkeys, frogs, and young reptiles will be on this bird’s menu.

Habitat and Range

These eagles inhabit most of Africa south of the Sahara desert. Their range extends from the Atlantic ocean in the west to the Indian ocean in the east. They live all the way down to the country of South Africa and as far north as Sudan and other countries that far north. These birds are typically seen in the tops of tall trees where they can survey the water in search for fish near the surface.


When an African fish eagle spots a fish, it will fly off its perch and go near where the fish is. It then flies low to the water, and instead of diving into the water to catch the fish like sea birds do, it uses a hunting tactic like that of the bald eagle. When it gets right over the fish, it sweeps its talons back and down to catch the fish. It then carries it back to a good place to eat its next meal. Only about one out of every eight fishing attempts are successful, but despite this these birds only hunt for about ten minutes a day. Hunting is normally finished by mid-morning. Sometimes these eagles have been seen staling fish from other birds of prey or even from fishermen!

Status and threats

The African fish eagle is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. There are no known predators of the adults, but eggs and young can fall prey to animals such as snakes, monkeys, baboons, and nile monitors. Just as these birds steal food from other birds, animals such as the tawny eagle sometimes steal food from African fish eagles. Just shows that you reap what you sow.

Water pollution has affected this bird somewhat, but this is one of the only human threats. In fact, African fish eagles actually benefit from some man-made changes to the environment. The building of dams helps as this creates lakes, giving the eagles a larger area to fish.

Mating, eggs, and young

African fish eagle mating occurs year round depending on where in Africa they live. Most individuals do not mate year round, but at any given time it is mating season for some populations. Despite this, most of these eagles only mate once per year. Males and females usually stay with each other for life. After mating, the female lays one to four eggs. If more than one egg is laid, they are usually laid two or three days apart. These eggs take about 44 days to hatch, and if there are multiple eggs, they will hatch a few days apart. The nest in which the eggs stay during these six weeks is huge. It can be over 70 inches (180 cm) in diameter!

After their young hatch, the adults spend a lot more time than normal hunting, as they have more mouths to feed. It takes these young African fish eagles 65 to 75 days before they are able to fly. Only about 5% of all chicks reach adulthood. Those who are lucky enough to survive can live for up to 24 years in the wild or 40 in captivity.

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Photo credits:

  • African fish eagle – Arturo de Frias Marques
  • Mystery animal – caspar s

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One Response

  1. Grandpa m
    Grandpa m at |

    Blue butterfly

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