The African fish eagle is known around the world as a symbol of strength and is often used to show the power of a company, country or organisation. The African continent is the proud home of this majestic bird of prey. Classified as a raptor, the African fish eagle’s keen vision, sharp talons and beak make him a successful hunter.
1. Status symbol
The fish eagle is the national bird of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Southern Sudan. The eagle is also used on the coat of arms of a number of other countries (for example Poland, Austria, Mexico and Germany).
If an African fish eagle catches a fish that is too heavy, he will immediately crash land on the water instead of letting it go. The eagle will then use one wing to swim to the nearest land, while still holding on to his catch. The eagle would rather risk drowning than letting go of his prized catch.
3. Many names
In his native Africa, this iconic bird goes by several different names. In Afrikaans, he is called visarend, inkwazi in isiZulu, hungwe in Shona and aigle pêcheur in French. His call resembles that of a seagull and is one of the most distinctive and well-known bird calls in Africa.
4. Eagle-eye vision
The fish eagle has five times more light-sensitive cells in his eyes than the human eye and he can see five basic colours while the human eye can only see three. The African fish eagle is able to spot camouflaged prey from a distance using his complex vision.
5. Survival of the fittest
Eagles can lay up to three eggs during the breeding season, but not all the babies will survive. The strongest eaglet in the nest will kill the weaker eaglets to eliminate all chances of having to fight for food.
The African fish eagle has talons that can reach up to 5cm in length and are used to snatch fish out of the water as well as grab fast-moving prey off the ground. Some fish eagles have been reported to catch catfish that equal them in weight and size. Only every sixth hunting attempt is successful, but this does not discourage the eagle.
7. Not picky
Although the fish eagle got his name from his main diet and the environment he prefers, he eats much more than only fish. He also eats the occasional crocodile hatchling, bird or unsuspecting monkey.
8. As sharp as knives
The fish eagle’s sharp barb-like talons are used to create a trap-like grasp that prey cannot move or escape from. Even slimy prey such as fish and snakes have little chance of getting away once they are in his claws.
9. A good sign
The African fish eagle is used by scientists as an indicator of how healthy a body of water is. The African eagle will not eat from or hunt near water that has been contaminated. So as long as there are fish eagles fishing from a lake or river near you, then you can be sure that the water near you is safe and healthy.
10. Guards his resources
The African fish eagle is a very territorial bird and has been seen engaging in aggressive turf wars with other eagles. It is only at times when food supplies and water are scarce that eagles are seen tolerating one another in close proximity. When food supplies are running low the eagle sometimes takes advantage of fishermen’s catches at shore and steals fish where possible.
Text: Jessica Du Preez
This article appears in the June issue of AnimalTalk.