Verreaux’s Eagles Nesting in Lolldaiga Hills
By Carly Butynski, Tom Butynski, and Yvonne de Jong,
Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme
Two days ago, on 29 May 2015, we found an active Verreaux’s eagle (Aquila verreauxi) nest near the northwest corner of Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. From our one-night camp, located about 200 m from the nest, we watched the adult pair flying to and from the nest and hunting along the ridges of the nearby granitic hills.
Verreaux’s eagle (also known as ‘black eagle) is Africa’s largest (body length: 80-96 cm; body weight 4-6 kg) and, perhaps, most distinctive eagle. While perched, they are easily identified by their black plumage, yellow feet, and the contrasting white ‘V’ on upper back. Their striking, soaring flight pattern reveals an entirely white back and rump, and greyish panels on the outer wings. The wings are narrow basally and broaden outwardly to facilitate the bird’s characteristic, cruising flight and accelerated diving while pursuing prey. Their main prey are rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis) and bush hyraxes (Heterohyrax brucei), although dik-diks (Madoqua spp.), klipspringers (Oreotragus oreotragus), hares (Lepus spp.), and other medium-sized mammals are also eaten.
Verreaux’s eagle is an uncommon resident of rocky hills, mountains, and gorges. Nests are typically constructed on large, precipitous cliffs, and guarded by breeding pairs. Though generally non-vocal, displaying eagles give a loud, sweeping, high-pitched scream interspersed with deep barking notes.
The nest that we found is located about 30 m above ground on a sheer, 50 m granite face, and appears to be inaccessible to all potential terrestrial predators (such as leopards Panthera pardus)—except, perhaps, olive baboons (Papio anubis). It is unlikely, however, that baboons would attempt the precarious climb to this nest and risk being dislodged from the cliff by attacks from these large and powerful raptors.
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