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.