Everything You Wanted to Know About the African Crowned Eagle
The African Crowned Eagle is another of Africa’s large and powerful eagle’s and is considered one of the “Big Three” eagle species in Africa. Along with the mighty Martial Eagle and the beautiful black Verreaux’s Eagle, the African Crowned Eagle stands as one of the most formidable raptors in the world. Also known simply as the Crowned Eagle, this beautiful species is found only in sub-Saharan Africa.
The African Crowned Eagle is a very large bird. Their 31 to 39 inch length places them in the top five longest eagles in the world. As with many other birds of prey the female is larger than the male by about 10 to 15 percent. Females will weigh on average about 7 to 10 pounds while males will weigh a little less at 6 to 9 pounds. With an average weight of about 8 pounds the African Crowned Eagle is the ninth heaviest eagle species in the world.
The wingspan of the Crowned Eagle ranges from about five feet up to six feet, which while large, is actually somewhat short for a bird of this size. This wingspan would be typical of a raptor that is about half the weight of the Crowned Eagle. What they lack in wing length they make up for in width as they have a very broad wing that is somewhat rounded. This unique wing shape gives the Crowned Eagle an increase in maneuverability, which is needed in the dense forests where they hunt.
Another unique adaptation of the Crowned Eagle is their rather large legs and feet, which are noticeably heavier and thicker than those of their African counterpart the Martial Eagle. They also possess an impressive set of weapons in their very large talons. With an average talon length of almost two inches they are almost on par with other much larger eagle species such as the Harpy Eagle of South America and Philippine Eagle.
The coloring of the Crowned Eagle is quite impressive and colorful. Their upper-parts are an array of black, browns and grey and they have an imposing looking double crest, which is black tipped. Their under-parts are white or cream colored with densely packed black spots and bars and their tails are also a mix of black and brown. The wings have a white base with black tips and two very distinct black bars. Their eyes can be either yellow or off-white and their feet are yellow with those large black talons. With their dark coloring, double crest, and large legs and talons the African Crowned Eagle can be one menacing looking raptor.
Juveniles look much different than their parents and it will take up to three years before they achieve their full adult colors. Young African Crowned Eagles will be lighter in color with light grays and white over much of its body including its head. As they mature their coloring will darken to the very striking dark colors that the adults show.
Habitat and Range
The African Crowned Eagle is only found in certain areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Their range extends from central Africa in the areas of Uganda and Ethiopia to parts of Tanzania and Kenya south to the eastern portions of South Africa. They have become rare in areas of West Africa, and other countries where they can be found include Gambia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Senegal and the Congo.
The preferred habitat of the Crowned Eagle is a densely forested area and they can be found in the rainforests and dense woodlands throughout their range. They can also be found in hilly areas with rocky outcroppings and mountainous terrain that contains dense areas of forest. Their range can be at altitudes of anywhere from sea-level up to over 9,000 feet.
The Crowned Eagle does not migrate and they are apt to inhabit the same territory throughout their adult life. Juvenile birds will move about before they mature as they seek a territory and a mate. An adult may relocate on occasion due to unforeseen circumstances such as losing its mate.
The African Crowned Eagle is considered the most powerful raptor in all of Africa, even more so than the Verreaux’s Eagle and the Marital Eagle, which are both slightly heavier. Their preferred hunting style is to find a suitable spot from which to sit and watch for potential prey. When a victim is spotted they will swiftly and silently stoop in for the kill from their perch. Their broad wings and long tail feathers help them to maneuver through the forest with ease. The very powerful talons of the Crowned Eagle are capable of killing prey on impact. Most kills by the Crowned Eagle are made on the forest floor although they can and will occasionally make a kill while flying.
The Crowned Eagle’s diet consists mainly of mammals including a variety of monkey species, which seems to be their favorite prey. They will also hunt lizards, snakes, hares, squirrels, mongoose, feral cats, hyrax, and even small antelope.
Crowned Eagles who make their home range in the rainforest will rely more on monkeys for prey while those whose range is outside the rainforest have a more diverse diet. Once a kill is made they will attempt to carry it up into the trees for safety but with larger prey this is sometimes not possible. In these cases they will use their very sharp bills to tear the prey apart so it can be moved in smaller pieces. The African Crowned Eagle is one of the few raptor species to routinely hunt prey that are over twice their own weight and this is yet one more reason why they are considered one of the most powerful raptors in the world.
African Crowned Eagles will mate for life as is common among most eagle species. The courtship ritual of the Crowned Eagle involves a thrilling aerial display along with a noisy vocal exchange. The pair will construct a nest, usually high up in a tree, and will reuse the nest from year to year. While the nest will initially be of modest size the pair will continue to add to the nest for years until it is rather large and one of the largest of all eagle species. Mature Crowned Eagle nests can be up to eight feet across and ten feet deep.
As the Crowned Eagle has one of the longest breeding cycles (up to 500 days) they will only breed once every other year. The female will lay one or two eggs that she will incubate for about 49 days while the male brings food to the nest. The female will do up to 90% of the incubating with only an occasional respite from the male. If there are two eggs the younger and smaller chick will always die either by starvation or at the hands of its older sibling, a cruel fate of nature. The surviving chick will continue to be fed by its mother for about 40 days after which time it is capable of feeding itself. Fledging occurs on average at about 110 days and the young eagle will experience its first flight at about four months of age. The juvenile eagle will remain under the care of its parents for an additional eleven months after fledging. This long period of dependence is one of the longest of any raptor and ensures that the young eagle is properly prepared to fend for itself once it becomes independent. It will take approximately five years for the young eagle to reach its breeding maturity.
Current estimates place the number of African Crowned Eagles at about 10,000 individuals. In 2012 they were listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). With widespread deforestation occurring across Africa the amount of suitable habitat for the Crowned Eagle is shrinking and placing a strain on the species. Persecution by farmers who perceive the Crowned Eagle as a threat to livestock is also a concern.
Another disturbing threat to the Crowned Eagle is that they are now competing with the illegal bush-meat trade in Africa. Poachers are decimating the stocks of antelope and monkeys in some areas for bush-meat and this is reducing the amount of potential prey for the Crowned Eagle and placing them in direct competition with the poachers. This is a competition that the Crowned Eagle is certain to lose.
- The Peregrine Fund
Conserving Birds of Prey Worldwide
On a more positive note there is an organization in South Africa called the CEWG, or Crowned Eagle Working Group, whose members monitor the breeding success of nesting sites. Their work extends to raising awareness and educating farmers and logging companies on the conservation efforts of the Crowned Eagle. Let’s hope that the efforts of the CEWG and other organizations such as The Peregrine Fund can help to insure that these majestic birds are protected and given every opportunity to thrive.
Fun Facts on the African Crowned Eagle
- The flight of the African Crowned Eagle is remarkably stealthy and quiet, much like that of an owl. This is due to its unique wing shape.
- The first African Crowned Eagle born in captivity was hatched at the San Diego Zoo in 1996.
- The African Crowned Eagle can swoop at speeds up to 100 mile per hour.
- African tribesmen value the crest feathers of the Crowned Eagle as ornaments.
- The Crowned Eagle has been known to attack prey that is up to six times its own weight.
- Pound for pound the African Crowned Eagle is one of the most formidable and ferocious birds of prey in the world.
- Males and females will sometimes work together when hunting. While one attracts the attention of a potential prey the other stealthy strikes from behind.
- The African Crowned Eagle can live for thirty years or longer in the wild with some possibly reaching fifty years.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio