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THE LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE

25 August 2014

www.leopard.tv

Little is known about the lesser spotted eagle Aquila pomarina in South Africa because it mainly occurs in Europe and breeds from the Baltic Sea south to Greece and Turkey. In southern Africa it occurs in regions that receive more than 600 mm of rainfall per year. Non-breeding lesser spotted eagles occur in East-Africa and southern Africa but they are rare in Mozambique. The specific epithet refers to Pomerania in Germany where they were first found and described.

The lesser spotted eagle is small and is only some 58 to 65 cm tall and weighs around 1.2 kg in the males and 1.5 kg in the females. The two sexes look alike with a mid-brown head and neck that grades into a darker mantle and back. The feathers on the back have white tips. The under parts are mid-brown and there is an off-white under tail in juvenile birds. The bill is dark grey with a yellow base (gape) which extends to the middle of the eye. The eyes are yellow in adult birds but are brown for the first 30 months of age. Unlike Wahlberg’s eagle Aquila wahlbergi, with which it can be confused, the tail is rounded. The feet are yellow and feathers extend down the leg as narrow brown stove-pipe leggings. The nostrils are rounded and not slotted as occurs in most other eagles of the genus Aquila.

The lesser spotted eagle is locally common. It migrates to Africa from Europe from mid-October. A bird that was ringed in the Kruger National Park has been found later near the Caspian Sea. In southern Africa it wanders widely and follows rain fronts. Its primary habitat is open woodlands and it avoids mountains and dense forests. It forages on the ground or from a perch but rarely takes prey in flight. It mostly feeds on flying termite alates as they emerge, but it has a preference for the northern harvester termite Hodotermes mossambicensis and hence is a valuable ally to the wildlife producer. Moreover, it also eats the chicks and fledglings of the red-billed quelea Quelea quelea and some small rodents and amphibians and therefore also benefits grain producers.

Reference:

Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean and P G Ryan (eds) 2005. Roberts – birds of southern Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, pp 530 – 531.

Article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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