Inhabiting mountainous terrain and rocky cliffs across the African continent, these birds showcase impressive agility and predatory tactics when it comes to hunting, with a primary diet consisting of small mammals such as hyraxes.
The long tail and wing structure of Verreaux’s Eagle aid in their effortless flight, allowing them to traverse large distances in search of food or suitable nesting locations.
The Verreaux’s eagle, scientifically known as Aquila verreauxii, is a large and striking bird of prey. This impressive eagle measures between 75 to 96 cm (30 to 38 inches) in length from the bill to the tip of the tail, making it the sixth longest eagle in the world.
An adult Verreaux’s eagle has a predominantly black appearance, which offers an intimidating and imposing presence. In flight, this eagle truly stands out due to its long tail and wings, which pinch in at the base. The distinct white patches towards the ends of the wings, as you can see in our photo above, and on the back give this bird its unique appearance, making it easily identifiable in its native habitat.
Immature eagles are brownish on the back and streaked below, but they still display the characteristic white panels in the wings and maintain the distinctive shape as they mature.
Another notable feature of the Verreaux’s eagle is its disproportionately large feet. Although slightly smaller in overall size compared to the Golden eagle, its feet are thought to be around 20% larger. This adaptation enables the Verreaux’s eagle to capture and hold onto considerably larger prey, crucial for its survival in the rugged environments it inhabits. The yellow and grey beak compliments the black plumage and dark eyes, completing the striking appearance of this apex predator.
Habitat and Distribution
This magnificent bird has an extensive distribution in sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from Senegal and the Ivory Coast through East Africa and down to South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland. While its preferred habitat is mountainous regions with rocky cliffs as we have in our area of the Namib Naukluft Park. It has also been observed in hilly savannas and grasslands.
When it comes to hunting and breeding, Verreaux’s Eagle usually nests on high cliffs or rocky outcrops, which provide excellent vantage points for spotting prey. They frequently choose remote and inaccessible sites for their nests, as this enhances their ability to defend against potential predators or competitors.
Diet and Hunting Strategies
Verreaux’s Eagle’s Diet
Verreaux’s Eagle primarily feeds on rock hyraxes from the genera Procavia and Heterohhyrax, which can weigh up to 5.4 kg. In southern Africa, hyraxes constitute 60-90% of the eagles’ diet. A pair of Verreaux’s Eagles and their chick may consume up to 400 hyraxes.
Verreaux’s Eagles often capitalize on their exceptional vision and stealthy flight pattern to approach their targets undetected. These eagles have also been known to work in pairs, with one bird distracting the hyrax while the other swoops in to make the kill. Not very fair on the rock hyrax if you ask me!
Hunting together, Verreaux’s Eagles use their powerful talons to snatch the hyrax from the rocks and carry it back to the nest. They employ both soaring flights and short dashes from a perch to take advantage of the terrain and their unsuspecting prey.
Breeding and Reproduction
Verreaux’s eagles are known to employ a distinctive style of breeding displays which include circling, figure eights, claw-grappling, aerial somersaults, half-rolls, tumbling, spirals, and steep dives and swoops. These majestic birds prefer to build their large nests on remote, inaccessible cliffs or in tall trees.
The nests are made primarily from sticks, and may be further lined with leaves and other soft materials to provide comfort and insulation for the eggs and offspring.
The female Verreaux’s eagle usually lays one or two eggs per breeding season. Incubation period typically lasts for about 45 days, during which both the male and female take turns in keeping the eggs warm. Eaglets are born altricial, which means they are fully dependent on their parents for food and protection.
During the first few weeks of their lives, the parent eagles provide the chicks with a steady diet of small mammals, such as the dassies (rock hyrax), which are their primary prey. As the offspring grow, they start developing necessary skills for hunting and begin exploring their surroundings.
It takes a young Verreaux’s eagle about 90-100 days to fledge and leave the nest. Once they leave the nest, juvenile eagles can still rely on their parents for food and support for an additional few weeks, until they become fully independent.
The conservation status of Verreaux’s Eagle is considered to be of least concern according to the IUCN red list, ensuring that these splendid raptors will continue to grace the African skies for years to come.
Although not globally threatened, their population can vary depending on the availability of suitable habitat and prey species.
Verreaux’s Eagles are habitat-specific birds, which have a strong preference for hilly and mountainous terrain with cliffs, rocks ledges, and caves. They can be found in various environments, from dry savannah and woodland to desert and high rainfall areas. Rocky outcrops, gorges, and mountain ranges provide vital nesting sites and prey resources.
Conservation efforts for Verreaux’s Eagle mainly focus on preserving their habitat and ensuring a stable prey population. This can include maintaining the integrity of mountain ecosystems, promoting sustainable land-use practices, and monitoring the health of prey species, particularly hyraxes. By keeping their natural environment intact and stable, the long-term survival of this magnificent bird of prey can be supported.
The Verreaux’s Eagle, though not currently threatened, relies on the conservation of its preferred habitats and prey species. Efforts to preserve these crucial elements can positively impact the survival and overall health of the species.