African Fish Eagle Facts | Anatomy, Diet, Habitat, Behavior

The African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) truly lives up to its name as it skillfully seizes the fish from the water surface and drags it to the land where it tears it apart. The eagle typically breeds all along the sub-Saharan Africa. They fancy living in areas that provide large water bodies such as lakes. It is the also the national bird of several countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Sudan.

African Fish Eagle Facts


  • From the first look of it one can hardly distinguish whether it’s a bald eagle or the African fish eagle. Both of these species have got too much to share—at least in their physical appearance.
  • The average weight of adult females is about 3.2 – 3.6 kg (7-8 lbs) whereas males averaging 2.0 – 2.5 kg (4.4-5.5 lbs).
  • Males have a wingspan measuring up to 2 m (6 feet) while that of females’ is 2.4 m (8 feet).
  • The body length of the African fish eagle is around 63–75 cm (25–30 in).
  • Adults are mainly distinguished by the combination of their dark brown and white plumage. Unlike bald eagle in which the whitish part ends on its neck, the white down in African fish eagle continues almost touching its belly.
  • They lack hair on the face and display little yellowish skin around the large brown eyes.
african fish eagle facts
African Fish Eagle is about to catch a fish ©

Geographic Range

  • African fish eagles occur in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa including Saharan Desert. The eagle’s range extends to Namibia, South Africa where it breeds along the Orange River.
  • Similarly they are found in Lake Malawi near Mozambique, Tanzania, and Malawi. In Botswana eagles live across the Okavango Delta as well as Senegal, Gambia in the west, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda.
  • Some of the isolated population is also thought to occur in large lakes or Lake Victoria in the Central Africa.


  • They are most likely to survive in freshwater reservoirs including rivers and lakes. African fish eagle’s habitats include swamps, tropical rainforests, marshes, grasslands, fynbos, and even deserts.
  • They are thought to breed on the lakes of Kenyan Rift Valley.


  • African fish eagles are equally admired for their loud song that goes on from dawn to dusk.
  • Minutes after sunrise the eagle goes after its prey and after eating it flies back to its perch to make sure that no intruder enters the territory.
  • The call of an African fish eagle reminds us of the North American bald eagle’s call. They utter calls like weee-ah, hyo-hyo or a heee-ah, heeah-heeah.
  • The home range of the fish eagle is 18.3 million square kilometers.
  • The average lifespan of the African fish eagle is 15 years in the wild.

Feeding Ecology & Diet

  • The bird earns its name because of the fact that fish makes much of its diet. It relies on fish more than on any other prey item.
  • With its large powerful talons, it catches fish from the water and takes it to a perch to enjoy the meal. However at times the fish is too heavy to lift in that case the eagle just drags it along the water surface before it drops the fish on land. Seldom does it happen that the fish slips out of African fish eagle’s talons.
  • They may seize fish as large as weighing up to 4 pounds.
  • It also preys on other animals such as waterfowls, terrapins, adult flamingos, young flamingos, crocodiles, turtles, catfish, storks, pelicans, herons, frogs, ducks, and lizards. Like typical birds of prey Africa fish eagle also feeds on carrion.
  • It rarely consumes land mammals such as monkeys or hyraxes.
african fish eagle facts
African Fish Eagle ©

Reproductive Biology

  • African fish eagles pair for life and they typically breed during the dry season when the water level goes down.
  • They may or may not use the same nesting site year after year. But when they do, the nests they build are likely to grow much larger in size.
  • The size of the eagle’s nest is 2m (six feet) across along with the depth that measures up to 1.2 m (4 feet).
  • African fish eagles build nests on large trees and the material they use are mostly sticks.
  • It attains the maturity in 4 years age. The breeding interval is of 180 – 365 days.
  • The clutch size is 1 – 3 white eggs with some reddish spots. Females do most of the incubation and the male only contributes when the female go out to bring food.
  • Eggs hatch in about 42 – 45 days. After 10 – 11 weeks the chicks will fledge out but they depend on their parents for another 90 days.

Conservation Status

  • The estimated population size of African fish eagles is about 300,000.
  • IUCN has listed it as Least Concern.

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