Crowned Eagles

We were about half-way through our visit to Cape Vidal in January 2021 when we found that a pair of Crowned Eagles were rearing a chick in a tall Casuarina tree right inside the camp and very near our cabin. The eagles were very careful not to attract attention to their nest and being known for attacking humans that venture too close to their nests we didn’t hang around there too often. We therefore got very few glimpses of the chick in its treetop fortress.

Considered Africa’s most powerful eagle, capable of preying even on mammals the size of bushbuck, the Crowned Eagle is a very large bird of prey – females, the larger of the sexes, weighs up to 5kg and has a wingspan of around 1.6m.  Crowned Eagles are forest birds, but have adapted to life in exotic plantations where there’s suitable prey available. Mammals – hyraxes, monkeys and antelope – make up the majority of their dietary intake and small pets regularly feature on the menu of Crowned Eagles living in or near urban areas that fall within their distribution range.

Crowned Eagles are monogamous and form lasting pair bonds, each pair defending a large tract of forest as their exclusive territory. Their large stick-platform nests are built by both partners on cliffs or at the top of tall forest trees. These nests are usually reused for consecutive years and are continuously added to, eventually becoming massive structures up to 3m tall. Clutches of two eggs are laid in the spring months and incubated over a seven week period, mostly be the female. Unless the first laid egg doesn’t hatch the older sibling will kill the younger soon after it hatches. While the male regularly brings food to the nest it never feeds the chick, this task is always performed by the female until the chick is about a month-and-a-half old, at which point it starts feeding itself on meals brought to it by the parent birds. The chick takes its first flight around four months after hatching and is finally chased from its parental territory when it is at least ten months old.

Though occurring widely over Africa’s forested areas, the IUCN lists the Crowned Eagle as being near-threatened, siting a decreasing population of no more than 50,000 mature individuals caused by habitat destruction and persecution by humans. In South Africa they’re found from the Garden Route, through the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal, to the escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, the Soutpansberg  range and the Pafuri region of the Kruger National Park.

29 thoughts on “Crowned Eagles

  1. naturebackin

    That must have been exciting to see and your portrait photo is particularly good.
    Btw, Shane McPherson’s study of selected crowned eagle nesting sites near Durban and Pmb using cameras situated at the nests found that hadeda nestlings formed a much larger proportion of food items than previously thought (these soft-boned kills do not lead to discarded bones being discoverable below nests), which I thought was most interesting. The majority of prey items observed were dassies, with hadedas second in number with the majority of these being birds not yet able to fly. He also found more generally that pet animals kills when they do occur are mostly done by inexperienced juveniles when times are hard, and in the part of the study using cameras at nests less than one percent of prey items brought to the nests were pets (totaling 7 cats and no dogs out of 836 observed prey items recorded at the nests).
    Here is a link to the interesting study in case you have time to take a peek:

    Click to access c417ed8e547ecca352cf32fa0cb22e30fba0.pdf

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Very interesting indeed, Carol, and I’m definitely going to read through that study during the course of today. I was fascinated that they chose the campsite as their nesting locale, when there’s a whole Park away from people to be used.

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      1. naturebackin

        Yes it is interesting that they chose to camp there. I know that some animals choose to be near non-threatening humans in places such as campgrounds as (ironically I suppose) the presence of humans may provide some kind of protection from predators, but one would not expect that of crowned eagles. Perhaps they are attracted there so that they can prey on the animals and birds that have chosen the proximity of the camp! Or perhaps there is territorial pressure and this was the best vacant spot available to them!

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        1. de Wets Wild Post author

          Thanks, Carol. I also thought the abundance of prey items in the camp might be a factor, but then the whole reserve teems with monkeys, guineafowl, duiker, etc. Perhaps the difference is that the terrain at ground level is relatively open in camp and overgrown in the forests outside, making it easier to catch prey? Anyway it was a unique privilege being so close to such magnificent birds!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      We were thrilled at our discovery, Anne. The multitude of monkeys that raid the camp on a daily basis is likely the reason why the eagles chose to nest right there above the humans.

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