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Questions my Grand kids asked me: What is your favorite bird Grandpa?
Choosing my favorite bird
The “Big Five” Eagles.
Wow! What a difficult question to answer- “What is my favorite bird?” It all depends which bird I am looking at. Out of the over 900 types of birds in Southern Africa how can I possibly choose just one. Some are large and impressive like the Eagles and Vultures and others are small and cute like the Waxbills. Then there are the Ducks with their beautiful colors and the Sunbirds flitting from flower to flower. Add to that the rather comical Hornbills, the large Secretary Bird and even bigger Ostrich and you begin to realize the problem. Let me try however.
The Eagles surely must be one of my favorites as they perch on the top of a tree or ride the thermals along the mountain sides looking out for something to catch for supper. So let us try to choose the “big five” eagles in Southern Africa in my list of favorites.
At the top of any list of eagles will surely be the three who compete for the prize of the largest eagle; the Crowned Eagle, the Martial Eagle and the Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle. Each has its own appeal.
- The African Crowned Eagle. Any animal that wears a crown obviously considers itself to be the king and as this very large eagle sours through the air there can be no doubt as to its majestic claims. They are found mainly along the Eastern part of the country and their Zulu name is Isihuhwa. According to one field guide this is the strongest eagle in the area. I am not certain how one can measure this. Did they have a weight lifting competition? Its food is normally medium sized mammals, but can even attack a small antelope. You often hear them flying over wooded areas and even urban areas crying out with a loud ringing call. Keep you small dog inside!
- The Martial Eagle. Another large eagle that it is found all over the area. It is easy to identify because of its dark head and chest, white, spotted under parts and feathered legs. They usually occur alone, perched on a tree waiting to pounce on their prey. When flying high in the sky they may be confused with the Black-chested Snake Eagle unless you look carefully.
- The Verreaux’s Eagle. Often called Black Eagle because of its color but can be identified from other dark Eagles by its size and the black “V” on its back. These Eagles are usually found in pairs in mountainous regions and when they call (which is not often) they give a high-pitched scream. The Afrikaans name is “Witkruisarend” which describes the white “V” on its back. They often feed on Rock Rabbits (Dassies) that they pounce on as the unsuspecting animals sun themselves in the mountains.
- The African Fish Eagle. Anywhere where there is a large area of water you are likely to find the Fish Eagle patrolling the sky with its distinctive ringing call, warning other birds that this is its territory, and that the fish in the water below belong to it and to it alone. Perhaps the best known Eagle because it is often used to advertise a local whiskey and the video of it swooping to lift a large fish out of the water is often seen on T.V. For me its call is the sound that best represents the Southern African Bushveldt and it never fails to thrill my soul.
- The 5th Eagle to make my list of the “big five” is a problem as there are so many I hate to leave out. The Brown-chested Snake Eagle, the Tawny Eagle, the Long-crested Eagle all competes for a place but perhaps I would include the Bateleur here. Although it is not classified in the number of 13 eagles considered to be “true eagles” but rather in a group called snake-eagles, it is one of my favorites because of lovely colors and unique way of flying. Its name comes from the French word for a “clown tight rope acrobat” and when you see it flying over you will understand why. It seems to be trying to keep its balance in the air. The photo of one in this article also seems to make it look somewhat like a clown.
Although I am tempted to choose the Bateleur as my absolute favorite I am going to rather go for the Fish Eagle because to me it calls out from the African Bushveldt to say; “this is my territory but you may come and visit as long as you don’t steal all my fish!” Now children, you tell me what is your favorite bird? I would love to know.
References: Allan, D: First Field Guide to Birds of Prey of Southern Africa.1999. Struik.
Newman, V: Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa (Revised