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African Fish Eagle
Haliaeetus vocifer

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Stable.

Other Names: African Fish-eagle, Cuncuma vocifer, Fish Eagle, River Eagle, West African River Eagle.

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Haliaeetus vocifer
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Distribution: Afrotropical. Sub-Saharan Africa from SENEGAMBIA east to ETHIOPIA and south to SOUTH AFRICA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: A morphological analysis by Zimbelmann (1992), an allozyme analysis by Schreiber and Weitzel (1995), and molecular phylogenetic analyses by Wink et al. (1996), Seibold and Helbig (1996), and Lerner and Mindell (2005), confirmed that Haliaeetus is monophyletic with a close relationship to the milvine kites of the genera Milvus and Haliastur. The latter authors found that the southern sea eagle species, H. leucogaster, H. sanfordi, H. vocifer,, and H. vociferoidesH. vocifer and H. vociferoides are sister species (Wink and Sauer-Gürth 2000, Lerner and Mindell op cit.). Along with the Madagascar Fish Eagle, this species was formerly placed in a separate genus, Cuncuma.

Movements: Irruptive or local migrant (Bildstein 2006). Immatures and subadults may disperse widely from their natal areas (Brown et al. 1982). Adults are largely sedentary, but may readly colonize newly watered areas as they form. Seven birds have been recovered from a total of 68 ringed in southern Africa, but the distances between the ringing sites and the recovery localities were not particularly great (Oatley et al. 1998).

Habitat and Habits: Generally associated with bodies of water of any type and size, but occasionally, particularly immatures, found far from water. Spends most of the time perched on trees or other prominent sites near lakes or rivers. Highly territorial, and usually recorded as singles, pairs, or in small family groups. Flocks of up to 75 or more are found when conditions are suitable, e.g., at dwindling water sources or around fishing boats (Lemaire-Dowsett 2006). The loud calls of this species are a characteristic sound around African lakes. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Usually hunts from a perch and feeds mainly on fish, which it captures by diving to the surface of ponds, lakes, estuaries, or coastal waters. Also takes birds and other small prey, including termites (Dowsett-Lemaire 2006), especially when rivers or lakes dry up. Occasionally feeds on carrion (including livestock carcasses) and pirates prey from other fish-eating birds, including herons and cormorants. Heronries are also raided, probably when other resources are scarce. more....

Breeding: Builds a large stick nest usually placed high in a tree, although some are on cliff ledges. The same nest is re-used year after year. Clutch size is 1-4 eggs, usually 2. Eggs are white and unmarked. Incubation is mostly by the female, and it lasts 42-45 days. The eggs hatch asynchronously, and the second, smaller chick often, but not always, perishes. Nestlings are fed mostly be females withy prey brought by the male. The nestling period is about 70-75 days. Fledged young remain in the vicinity of the nest for two or three months before dispersing. more....

Conservation: Common throughout most of its range. It is not usually persecuted by humans, or affected by habitat changes, but it may suffer from competition with humans for its food supply in some areas. This species was affected by DDE-induced eggshell thinning in some regions, particularly Zimbabwe (Douthwaite 1992 and others) and South Africa (Davies and Randall 1989), and other poisons which enter their aquatic ecosystems. Four of seven ringed birds recovered in South Africa were found drowned in artificial structures. Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: Brown et al. (1982) estimated the global population at 100,000 to 200,000 adult pairs, plus an unknown number of immatures. Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) placed the global population (defined as the number of adults and immatures at the start of the breeding season) in the range of 100,101 to 1,000,000 individuals. BirdLife International (2009) estimated the number of mature birds at 300,000, while noting that the supporting data for this estimate were poor. more....

Important References: 
Boshoff, A.F. 1997. African Fish Eagle. Pp. 205-207 in J.A. Harrison et
  al. (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines.
  BirdLife South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Brown, L. 1980. The African Fish-eagle. Bailey Brothers & Swinfen,
  Folkestone, UK.
Brown, L.H. 1960. The African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, especially in
  the Kavirondo Gulf. Ibis 102:285-297.
Brown, L.H., and J.B.D. Hopcraft. 1973. Population structure and dynamics
  in the African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer (Daudin) at Lake Naivasha,
  Kenya. East African Wildlife Journal 11:255-269.
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Davies, R.A.G., and R.M. Randall. 1989. Historical and geographical
  patterns in eggshell thickness of African Fish-eagles Haliaeetus vocifer, in
  relation to pesticide use within southern Africa. Pp. 501-513 in B.-U.
  Meyburg and R.D. Chancellor (eds.), Raptors in the modern world. World
  Working Group on Birds of Prey and Owls, Berlin.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Kemp, A.S. 1994. African Fish-eagle. P. 121 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott,
  and J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World
  vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Simmons, R.E. 2005. African Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer. Pp. 481-483 in
  P.A.R. Hockey, W.R.J. Dean, and P.G. Ryan (eds.), Roberts Birds of Southern
  Africa. 7th edition. Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape
  Town, South Africa.
Steyn, P. 1960. Observations on the African Fish Eagle. Bokmakierie
Steyn, P. 1973. Eagle Days: a study of African eagles at the nest. Purnell
  and Sons, London.
Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa: their identification and
  life histories. David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa.
Thiollay, J.-M., and J.A. Meyer. 1978. [Density, size of territories and
  production of a population of African Fish-eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
  (Daudin).] Terre et la Vie 32:203-219. (In French)

Current Research: The Endangered Wildlife Trust's Birds of Prey Working Group is conducting a research project on the African Fish Eagles of the Breede River in South Africa with support from "Flight of The Fish Eagle Brandy." The long-term goal of the project is to develop a systematic chemical pollution profile for the entire Breede River from source to mouth in an effort to identify zones of particular concern in terms of pesticide concentration and water quality. The results should facilitate the development of a more eco-friendly approach to agriculture and water management within the Breede River catchment in the Overberg region of the Western Cape. Further details can be obtained from Andrew Jenkins at jenkins@uct.ac.za.
Sightings of wing-tagged African Fish Eagles in South Africa should be reported to Mark Anderson at manderson@half.ncape.gov.za or 082-788-0961, Adam Welz at wetclaws@yahoo.com or 073-162-3887, or André Botha at andreb@ewt.org or 082-962-5725.

Sites of Interest:
African Fish Eagle photos.

Chiweshe, Ngoni
Middleton, Angus
Obodi, Veryl Achieng
Simmons, Rob
Steyn, Peter
Tingay, Ruth
Virani, Munir

Last modified: 1/23/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 Oct. 2021

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