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A Quick Guide to Distinguish between our Eagle Species

~ Zambezi Cruise and Safaris

We are lucky, here at Pamuzinda, in having two different large Eagle species which have nested here for a number of years. For their size alone they are very photographical and fortunately both have chosen to nest in areas where a regular presence of human beings has led to them being more tolerant of the species Homo sapiens than would be most of their counterparts.

The first of these is the African Fish Eagle – Haliaeetus vocifer (“hungwe” in the local Shona language) – with its striking brown and white plumage and that hauntingly evocative call, with which a pair keep in touch with one another, once heard never forgotten. Our pair have chosen to nest in a large tree directly opposite the outside restaurant deck at the Lodge and so are a common sight in hours of daylight.

There is a plentiful supply of various fish species in the river and, should the opportunity arise, they are able to supplement this food supply with occasional small mammals, waterbirds, reptiles and amphibians. Although not technically an endangered species (it is officially listed as of “least concern” meaning the population is stable) I have never seen accumulations of them as with their American cousins the Bald Eagles which sometimes gather in great numbers. Maybe they are more territorially conscious and guard their food supply against would be intruders accordingly.

It is distributed through most of sub-Saharan Africa and Wikipedia gives its estimated numbers at in the region of 300,000. It tends to breed in the dry season when water levels are low and catching fish for a hungry brood of normally two to three young, is easier. Our pair have successfully raised two chicks this year which have just(1st Nov) left the nest. They are still finding their wings and, unlike the graceful descents of their parents, tend to come down to earth by a process known as “whiffling” whereby they fold their wings in and come down in a fairly ungainly series of zig zag movements.

The second species is the impressive Martial Eagle – Polemaetus bellicosus – one of the largest of the African Eagles.

With a wingspan of over 6feet it is capable of lifting and carrying off prey the size of a domestic lamb. Unlike most Eagles it hunts in a Falcon like fashion stooping from great height to initially stun its prey with the sheer impetus of the impact. It’s size and bold nature mean that it’s potential menu is vast and all manner of small to medium mammals and reptiles and virtually any size of bird are on its wishlist. Juveniles tend to be much paler than adults and females can be up to 50% heavier than males. It has a low erectile crest though in appearance it is almost recumbent.

The pair I am discussing nest in the heart of the park in woodland, which is their preferred nesting habitat, whilst within easy reach of a more open savannah type terrain which is their preferred hunting territory. Fortunately their nest site is adjacent to several Game Drive tracks and so they have, over the years, become accustomed to the passing vehicles despite a nature that normally prefers to be away from human intrusion.

Their official status listing is “vulnerable” which means that unless circumstances causing its decline are halted then it is likely to become vulnerable to extinction. Unfortunately one of the major factors in its significant and recent decline across most of it range is persecution by man. In farming areas it is seen as a threat to livestock and hunted and poisoned accordingly. In keeping with many other raptors it will often feed on carrion or carcasses dead for some other reason and this, when seen by irate farmers, accentuates the mistaken belief that it is guilty of killing animals far larger than it could, in all sensibility, be capable of thus leading to its increasing persecution.

As a dominant species within the worldwide web of Wildlife we humans have much to be held accountable for!

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