7 Facts On The African Fish Eagle: Africa’s Most Iconic Raptor

The African Fish eagle, just like the American bald eagle, is a bird synonymous with the African continent. The sound of its cry conjures images of rolling savannah plains full of great herds of zebras, antelopes, gazelles, and lions or cheetahs chasing after them, great rivers meandering slowly through the African jungle, rolling hills, and beautiful white-capped mountains. This bird is beautiful and unmistakable, and there is more to it than meets the eye so here are 7 facts on the African Fish Eagle for you!

1. The African Fish Eagle Isn’t Even A True Eagle.

Well, the African Fish Eagle isn’t considered a true eagle species, rather they are part of an extremely old line of eagles known as sea eagles together with other eagle species like the American Bald Eagle, and the critically endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle.

True eagles have a few characteristics that identify them such as feathers that go all the way down to the feet. Well then, what do African Fish Eagles look like?

The African fish eagle has a distinct white feathered head. Other parts of the body that are white include the tail and breasts.

They have yellow faces, hooked yellow-black tipped beaks, dark brown eyes, and black wings and the rest of the feathers are brown in color. The legs and feet are pale yellow and are not feathered.

2. Female African Eagles Are Bigger And Stronger Than Males.

Unlike other birds, female African Fish Eagles are 25% larger than their male counterparts.

The females weigh on average between 3.2 and 3.6 kg (7.1 and 7.9 lb) with a wingspan of 2.4 m (7.9 ft).

Males on the other hand weigh between 2 and 2.5 kg (4.4 and 5.5 lb) with a wingspan of around 2 m (6.6 ft). Their body length ranges from 63 to 74 cm (25 to 29.5 in).

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3. The African Fish Eagle Is Indigenous To Africa

The African Fish Eagle is indigenous to the continent and can be found South of the Sahara. They are quite common near large bodies of freshwater such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and at the mouth of rivers and estuaries along the coast.

They are not picky or particular when looking for a habitat, as they only need a large body of water with enough prey and enough places to perch on. As such they may be found in savannahs, tropical jungles, marshes, swamps, and fynbos. But they are absent from arid areas.

They can be found in substantial numbers in the Great Rift Valley lakes of Kenya, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, the Orange River, and the Okavango Delta.

4. They Are True Fishermen.

It isn’t called the African fish eagle for no reason. These eagles are adept at hunting and catching fish. Its main diet consists of fish, which it catches using its large clawed talons.

It has special structures on its toes that enable it to grip and hold on to slippery fish; these structures are called spicules. It commonly feeds on catfish and mullets, but will also feed on characins, lungfish, tilapia, cichlids, and the African Tigerfish.

They generally hunt fish that weigh between 200 and 1,000 g ( 0.44 to 2.22 lb), but will even take fish up to 4,200 g (9.3 lb) if they get the chance.

They swoop in from a perch and snatch the fish out of the water, then fly back to eat it at their perch. If a fish is too heavy and the eagle is having trouble maintaining flight, then it will drop into the water and use its wings to paddle to the nearest dry land.

5. It Steals Food Where And When It Can.

The African Fish Eagle is a known, serial Kleptoparasite. This is when one animal deliberately takes food from another animal.

Its victims include ospreys, pelicans, kingfishers, shoebills, hammerkops, and Goliath Herons. It will even steal from other fish eagles that have taken prey that is too big or heavy and they are having a hard time handling them.

But this doesn’t mean these prolific hunters only live fish and what they steal from others. They have a wide pallet often being optimistic feeders, which means they feed on what’s available.

Their varied diet ranges from crocodiles, insects, monitor lizards, dik-diks, hares, rats, monkeys, hyrax, and other water birds such as darters, grebes, cormorants, ducks, and the hatchlings of lesser and greater flamingos, egrets and herons. They are also known to prey on the domestic fowl/ common chicken.

6. It’s Cry Is Usually called, ‘The Cry Of Africa’

The African Fish Eagle has a distinctive call that can be heard at water’s edges. This call is quite haunting and striking sounding like a whistling scream or yelping laugh. It is this call that many people visiting the great African Wilderness, have said carried the essence of Africa.

Other than its cry being termed the cry of Africa, the African Fish Eagle holds much more significance. It is the official bird of five African countries; South Sudan, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It is featured on the flag of Zambia and on the coat of arms of South Sudan, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia.

In some African tribes, the African Fish Eagle is also a revered bird celebrated through folklore and traditional beliefs. Among some Bantu language speakers of Southern Africa it was believed to a messenger of the gods. Among the Shona people of Zimbabwe, the birds are believed to be bringers of good fortune and can protect an individual from spiritual attacks.

7. They Mate For Life

Just like other eagle species, the African Eagle usually forms monogamous relationships that can last the lifetime of the birds.

These birds are highly territorial so you’ll often see them in pairs or alone. They build nests out of branches and sticks on a tree overlooking the water or on a cliff, and a breeding pair will make use of the same nest for several years, only adding on additional material.

Breeding season begins during the dry season when water levels are low and catching fish is relatively easy. Females will lay one to three eggs each breeding season with the eggs taking from 42 to 45 days before they hatch.

FAQS on the African Fish Eagle

In the last section, we always go over a few FAQs that people tend to wonder about, so let’s go!

1. African Fish Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle, what are the differences?

To start off, both these bird species belong to the family of sea eagles, but the Bald Eagle is found in the USA and Canada while the African Fish Eagle is found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The first difference between them is their plumage with the bald eagle having black-brown body feathers with a white head and tail.

The African Fish Eagle on the other hand has a white head, breast and tail, with black back and flight feathers and black brown stomach feathers.

In terms of size, bald eagles are slightly larger, which would definitely be a factor in case of a showdown.

The Bald eagles weigh between 3 and 6.3 kg (6.6 and 13.9 lb), and their body length ranges from 70 to 102 cm (28 to 40 in). This size and weight advantage would make the Bald eagle win in case of a showdown between these two sea eagle species.

2. What is the other name of the African Fish Eagle?

The African Fish Eagle is also known as the African sea eagle. In some African languages, the bird is known as, Nsthu in Northern Sotho, Inkwazi in Zulu, Hungwe in Shona, Nkwazi in Chewa, and Vis Arend in Afrikaans.

3. What is the Lifespan of the African Fish Eagle?

The African Fish eagles have an average life span of about 20 years out in the wild.

4. How Fast do African Fish Eagles fly?

The African Fish Eagle has a flying speed of 32 kph (20 mph).

5. How dangerous are African Fish Eagles?

Being birds of prey with very sharp beak and talons, African fish eagles can be quite dangerous if provoked or when they attack humans.

6. Would the African Fish Eagle make a good pet?

These birds just like other raptor species would not make good pets. Their habitat needs and their carnivorous diet make them unsuitable as pets.

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My Final Conclusion.

I hope that this article on the African Fish Eagle answers all your questions, but if you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them in the comment section below, or join me on (one of) my social media channels for more pictures and stories of my travels to Africa 😉

I wish you happy travels!

Kind regards,


I now have a YouTube channel as well!


4 thoughts on “7 Facts On The African Fish Eagle: Africa’s Most Iconic Raptor”

  1. Dear Lizzy,

    Your deep dive into the world of the African Fish Eagle was truly captivating! It’s fascinating to learn about this majestic bird, especially its unique characteristics, hunting prowess, and cultural significance across various African tribes. The fact that they mate for life and their haunting cry being termed the ‘Cry of Africa’ adds to the allure of this iconic raptor.
    One aspect that piqued my curiosity was the African Fish Eagle’s kleptoparasitic behavior. It’s intriguing that such a skilled hunter would also steal food from other birds. Do you think this behavior is more out of opportunity or necessity?
    The comparison between the African Fish Eagle and the Bald Eagle was enlightening. It’s always interesting to draw parallels between species from different continents and understand their evolutionary paths.
    Thank you for sharing this wealth of information. Your passion for Africa and its diverse wildlife shines through in your writing. I’m looking forward to exploring more of your articles and learning about the wonders of the African continent.

    Warm regards,


    • Hello Max!

      Thank you for your fantastic comment and about your question: African Fish Eagles are real opportunists, so their stealing behavior is more out about their nature than about necessity 😉

      Sure, I will keep writing about Africa and its wildlife, next bird on the list is the Cape Gannet, keep posted!

      Kind regards,


  2. Thank you for all the great information about this beautiful creature. It is very helpful to fully understand it and its environment. I will certainly know where to come for reference material about the African Fish Eagle in the future.

    The African Fish Eagle is a symbol of Africa, and deservedly so.


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