Similar to a North American Bald Eagle, the African Fish Eagle is recognizable by its distinctive black torso and wings that contrast sharply with its white head and tail. Females weigh 7 to 8 lbs (about 3.2 to 3.6 kg) and are slightly larger than male counterparts, who tip the scales at 4 to 5.5 lbs (about 2 to 2.5 kg). The bird spans 25 to 30 inches (about 63 to 75 cm) in length. The eagle, which possess a yellow beak with a black tip, is common in Southern Africa and has such a distinctive sound that the bird is commonly referred to as “the voice of Africa.”
Known scientifically as haliaeetus vocifer, the African Fish Eagle sounds much like the North American Bald Eagle. The African Fish Eagle has two different calls, one for when it flies and another for when it perches. Males own more of a soft voice, while females are higher pitched in tone.
The birds live in nests made of sticks in tall trees near rivers, lakes, and dams. Some birds move around and build more than one nest to avoid wet weather, while other eagles are content to stay put. Nests are often 47 to 71 inches (about 120 to 180 cm) wide and 12 to 24 inches (about 30 to 60 cm) deep. As nests are often reused, they can grow up to 6 feet (about 1.8 m) wide, including all the added branches and twigs.
A female will lay up to three speckled eggs at time. Eggs take up six weeks to hatch. Females primarily incubate the eggs, while the males gather food. Both males and females tend to the nestlings after they are born. After two months, the young birds are able to feed themselves and within 75 days, they are able to fly.
The diet of the eagle mainly consists of small fish, including lungfish and catfish. The African Fish Eagle usually waits perched in a tree until it spots a fish in the water. Using its long, black claws, the bird will pick up the fish and carry it back to the nest to eat. If the eagle catches a fish weighing more than 4 lbs (about 1.8 kg), the bird will drag it to shore and eat it along the bank. Besides fish, the African Fish Eagle can eat water birds, tiny turtles, baby crocodiles, insects, and dead animals. The eagles are also kleptoparasite creatures, meaning that these opportunistic birds will often steal food already caught by other birds.