Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, or the Giant Eagle-Owl, is the biggest owl occurring in Africa and one of the biggest on the planet. Females are considerably larger than males, and tip the scales at up to 3kg, with a wingspan of over 1.5m. It inhabits dry savanna, woodlands and riverine forests, even penetrating deserts along drainage lines where large trees grow (such as in the Kalahari). As can be expected from such a large bird of prey their menu includes mostly small to medium vertebrates (up to the size of hares, springhares, piglets, monkeys, herons, flamingoes and even other large owls!)
Pairs of Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl are monogamous and defend fairly large territories. Here they roost and nest in large trees, taking over the large stick nests of other big birds of prey or utilising the tops of the nests of the hamerkop or sociable weavers. They breed through winter and spring, when the female incubates a clutch of (usually) 2 eggs for over 5 weeks, while the male feeds her at night. Usually the second chick to hatch dies of starvation within 2 weeks, as the first-hatched hogs most of the food brought back by the parents. The surviving chick stays in the nest for around 2 months, but will remain dependent on its parents for up to a year and some may even stay with their parents to help raise the next chick. Though they are mainly nocturnal, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls are regularly encountered on the hunt around dawn and dusk
Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl is widely distributed over sub-Saharan Africa and considered of least concern by the IUCN. In South Africa they occur only in northern Kwazulu Natal, the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and patchily along the borders with Botswana into the Kalahari regions of the Northern Cape, with a scattering of records from elsewhere in the country. In South Africa they are increasingly becoming scarce outside of the major conservation areas.