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Animal Reference

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The African hawk-eagle

31 October 2013



Scientific Name : Aquila spilogaster

Weight (Male) : 1.3 kg

Weight (Female) : ± 1.6 kg

Wingspan : ± 1.5 m

Nests : Used repeatedly for at least 18 years.

Eggs : Hatch after 42 days.




There is actually little known with which to distinguish between hawks and eagles despite the general use of these and related terms. Hawks and eagles are raptors of the family Accipitridae of the Order Accipitriformes, the latter which also includes the vultures, buzzards, falcons and a host of other types of raptor. All the raptors of this group are active by day (diurnal) in contrast with raptors such as owls who are active at night (nocturnal). Hawks and eagles all have wide wings; hooked bills; and large, strong and sharp claws. Yet they have a variable appearance. The real differences between a hawk and an eagle are in size, shape, colour and flying mode.

The eagles are large, strongly-built raptors with a large, sharp hooks on the upper part of the bill. The hawks, on the other hand, are raptors of medium size which mainly occur in bushveld areas where they are adapted to fly between the trees by making sharp turns. There is considerable confusion in the common names of raptors, with many types of eagle, osprey, hawk, falcon and other types.

The African hawk-eagle Aquila spilogaster has an even more confusing common name. The name Aquila means eagle in Latin (aquila) while spilogaster is Latin for a spotted underside. This raptor was first named scientifically as Spizaëtus spilogaster by Du Bus de Gesignies=Bonaparte in 1850 based on a specimen from Ethiopia. It occurs commonly in the northern savannas (bushveld) with large trees in South Africa and its distribution stretches into north-eastern Africa.

www.leopard.tvThe African hawk-eagle male weighs around 1.3 kg and has a wingspan of up to 1.5 m, but the female is some 300 g heavier than the male. It has a striking white chest with numerous longitudinal black bars, the legs are covered with white feathers, the feet are bright yellow and the long claws are pitch black. The eyes are orange-yellow and the bill is dark grey with a hooked upper mandible. The underside of the tail is silvery-white and sometimes has incomplete black bars. The upper part of the body is blackish with scattered white bars while the upper part of the tail is greyish with black transverse bands and a broad, black tip with a white edge. The white crop is prominent and shows numerous longitudinal black bars. Young African hawk-eagles have dark brown upper and undersides.

This raptor is common in the more northern savannas (bushveld) of South Africa but it does not occur in the southern grassland portions and the arid western parts. In the Kruger National Park there is a mean density of 1.8 pairs per 100 km² but this can increase to three pairs per 100 km². It is mainly a resident bird although longer migrations can occur at times of drought. It mainly occurs in savannas with large trees.

www.leopard.tvMonogamous breeding pairs are formed which are permanently territorial. The sharp, large claws allow it to attack prey as heavy as 4 kg. The prey is usually hunted from a perch or by coursing above the ground when it can detect prey as far as 1 km away. At times it will run on the ground after prey that attempt to scuttle into cover. Some 70 to 74 percent of the diet consists of birds; while smaller mammals, such as bushbabies, vervet monkeys, squirrels, hares, rodents and hyraxes; reptiles and insects are also often preyed on. The African hawk-eagle will also eat carrion as has already been recorded on videos on Shayamanzi.

The nests are at least 3 km apart and are constructed by both members of the breeding pair. The nest is used repeatedly for at least 18 years and possibly for up to 60 years. It consists of a large platform of sticks and twigs and has an outer diameter of some 1 m, a height of 76 cm and a central hollow with a diameter of 50 cm. This hollow is lined with greenery just before the eggs are laid from April to August. One to two round to oval, chalky-white eggs with pale red to reddish-brown spots are laid at a time and incubation starts as soon as the first egg has been laid. The female does 93 percent of the incubation by day and the male feeds her on the nest. The eggs hatch after 42 days and the hatchlings of 30 g are covered in chocolate-brown down for the first three weeks of life. The chicks leave the nest when they are 67 to 70 days old but will be cared for a while longer by the parents.


Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean and P G Ryan (Eds) 2005. Roberts – birds of southern Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, pp 533 - 534.

artikel by: Prof J du P Bothma


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