We experienced a very interesting sighting from the main deck while enjoying afternoon tea. African fish-eagles are very common along the Luvuvhu River, with many resident pairs roosting and hunting along the pristine river frontage. We are treated their beautiful call every day.
On this particular day, an individual was perched on an overhanging tree, glaring into the water – waiting for the next unsuspecting fish to swim by … or so we thought. Suddenly the raptor dropped to the ground swiftly and started to struggle with something in the undergrowth. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that we were looking at a very ambitious eagle, which was trying to catch a hardy cane rat.
The large rodent was not giving into the eagle’s attempts and for a while managed to avoid certain death from the sharp talons of the eagle. After a few moments of tense struggle, the large eagle took the battle to the water and proceeded to drown the cane rat. This strategy was successful and the cane rat soon expired. Once this had happened, the eagle dragged the carcass to the river bank and started to feast – what an amazing sighting!
Generally speaking, African fish-eagles feed predominantly on fish: upon spotting a potential prey item from a perch in a tree, it will swoop down upon and snatch the prey from the water with its large clawed talons. The eagle will then fly back to its perch to eat its catch.
Like other pescivores, the African fish-eagle has structures on its toes called spiricules that allow it to grasp fish and other slippery prey. Should the fish-eagle catch a fish over 1.8 kg it will be too heavy to allow the eagle to get lift, so it will instead drag the fish across the surface of the water until it reaches the shore. If it catches a fish that is too heavy to even allow the eagle to sustain flight, it will drop into the water and paddle to the nearest shore with its wings. The African fish-eagle is known to rob other bird species of their catch. It will also feed on water birds, small terrapins, baby crocodiles and monitor lizards, frogs and carrion. Occasionally, it may even carry off mammalian prey, such as hyraxes and vervet monkeys, and in this case – cane rats.
The Pafuri Team