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Haliaeetus vocifer (African fish-eagle) 

Visarend [Afrikaans]; Ingqolane, Unomakhwezana [Xhosa]; iNkwazi [Zulu]; Mpungu [Kwangali]; Hungwe (also applied to Secretary bird) [Shona]; Inkwazi [Swazi]; Nghunghwa [Tsonga]; Kgoadirê [Tswana]; Afrikaanse zeearend, [Dutch]; Pygargue vocifer [French]; Schreiseeadler [German]; Águia-pesqueira-africana [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Falconiformes > Family: Accipitridae

Haliaeetus vocifer (African fish-eagle) 

African fish-eagle, Caprivi Strip, Namibia. [photo Stephen Davis ©]

African fish-eagle, Strandfontein Sewage Works, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Haliaeetus vocifer (African fish-eagle)
African fish-eagle immature. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©] African fish-eagle juvenile, Botswana. [photo Mike Grimes ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa it is locally common in much of the region, excluding the arid Namib Desert, Kalahari and much of the Karoo. It generally favours large water bodies, ranging from estuaries to rivers and man-made impoundments, such as dams.

Distribution of African fish eagle in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Mainly sedentary, although both adults and fledglings may disperse from the nest territory after the breeding season.


Specialises in hunting fish, gracefully swooping down to the water surface to grab a fish with its talons; it may even catch fish straight from the waves of the sea! Fish that weigh under about 2 kg are lifted out of the water and carried to a perch to be eaten, but if the fish is larger than 3 kg, the fish-eagle drags to the shore using its wings as paddles. It also hunts other animals living on or near the water, such as waterbirds, reptiles and small mammals.  The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, performing a courtship display in which the male repeatedly dives at the female, who presents her talons.
  • The nest (see image below) is mainly built by the female in roughly two months, consisting of a large platform of sticks or Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), lined with grass, papyrus heads, other aquatic plants and occasionally weaver nests. Due to the considerable effort required to build the nest, the same structure is often reused over multiple breeding seasons, although a breeding pair may have multiple nests, alternating between them each year. It is typically placed on a cliff ledge or at the top of a tall tree, usually less than 100 metres from water; it has been recorded to use the following trees for nesting:
    • indigenous trees
      • Acacia
      • Euphorbia
      • Ficus (figs)
    • alien trees
      • Eucalyptus
      • Pinus (pines)
Haliaeetus vocifer (African fish-eagle)   

African fish-eagle nest, Levuvhu River, Kruger Park, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from April-August, peaking from May-June.
  • It lays 1-4, usually 2 eggs, which are mainly incubated by the female for about 42-45 days, while the male may take over for an hour or two so that she can hunt.
  • The chicks are brooded for much of the nestling period; the older chick often ruthlessly attacks the younger bird and prevents it from getting food, even if there is plenty of food to go around. The parents ignore this behaviour, and by seven weeks the competition for food between siblings intensifies, although they are less aggressive to each other. The younger chick either dies or grows to be a lot weaker than its siblings, in fact 2-3 chicks often survive to fledge at 70-75 days old. They become fully independent after another two months or so.


Not threatened globally, but Near-threatened in Namibia due its small population there.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.