The Long-created Eagle is easy to identify thanks to the couple of extended feathers on its head that is so conspicuous when it sits prominently on an exposed tree top or utility pole along the road. They’re medium-sized raptors, weighing up to 1.5kg and measuring around 55cm in length – females are heavier than males. Long-crested Eagles inhabit moist woodland and forest adjacent to open patches, often in association with wetlands or along river courses, and seems especially fond of high-lying areas. Rodents make up the largest portion of their diet, though they will also take ground birds, frogs, reptiles and even crabs and fish.
Long-crested Eagles nest in the canopy of tall trees, usually during the summer months though breeding attempts are recorded throughout the year. Pairs are monogamous and territorial and perform acrobatic courtship displays at the start of their breeding cycle. Their nests are platforms built of sticks and lined with softer materials such as green leaves. Females lay clutches of 1 or 2 eggs and incubate them for around 6 weeks. The male provides food to the female at the nest while she incubates the eggs and then broods the chicks after they’ve emerged from the eggs. The chicks fledge at two months old and remain with their parents for 2-3 months more.
The IUCN lists the Long-crested Eagle as a species of least concern. It has a very wide distribution over sub-Saharan Africa, absent only from the most open and arid areas. In South Africa they’re found along the Eastern Cape coast, through most of Kwazulu-Natal and marginally into the eastern Free State, and also in the high-lying parts of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo (especially along the escarpment). It seems that this species has benefitted from the establishment of commercial forestry in South Africa and could expand its range as a result.