An inhabitant of woodland and savanna habitats, the African Hawk-Eagle is a medium-sized eagle preying primarily on birds, mammals and reptiles up to 4kg in weight – no small feat for a bird that itself weighs only about 1.5kg (females are slightly bigger than males).
African Hawk-Eagles are normally encountered in monogamous, territorial pairs which often hunt and feed cooperatively. In the breeding season, which starts in winter and extends into spring, they also work together to build and maintain their large stick nest in the canopies of tall trees or, less frequently, on cliffs or utility pylons. The female takes responsibility for incubating the clutch of 1 or 2 eggs over a 5 week period while the male feeds her and the newly hatched chicks at the nest – the female only starts leaving the nest for short periods about a week after the chicks emerged. The first-hatched chick usually dominates the second, most often leading to the death of the second chick through starvation or being persistently bullied. The chicks leave the nest at about two months old and remain dependent on the parent birds for three more months thereafter before dispersing.
The African Hawk-Eagle occurs widely over sub-Saharan Africa with the exclusion of the equatorial forests and arid regions. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern while noting that populations are declining due to loss of habitat and persecution as poultry thieves. A fairly rare resident in South Africa’s northern provinces (Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga), where the population is estimated to be about 1,600 pairs, and occasionally recorded in northern Kwazulu-Natal, the African Hawk-Eagle is considered near-threatened in South Africa and mostly seen in the large conservation areas encompassed by its distribution range, most notably the Kruger National Park.