Stephanoaetus coronatus (African crowned eagle, Crowned eagle) 

Kroonarend [Afrikaans]; Ukhozi (generic term for eagle) [Xhosa]; isiHuhwa (also applied to Martial eagle) [Zulu]; Kroonarend [Dutch]; Aigle couronné [French]; Kronenadler [German]; Águia-coroada [Portuguese]

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Stephanoaetus coronatus (African crowned eagle, Crowned eagle)  Stephanoaetus coronatus (African crowned eagle, Crowned eagle) 
African crowned eagle, Dlinza forest, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. [photo Hugh Chittenden ©] African crowned eagle, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Stephanoaetus coronatus (African crowned eagle, Crowned eagle) 
African crowned eagle. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from Guinea to South Africa, with an isolated population in Ethiopia. In southern Africa, it is generally uncommon in Zimbabwe, central Mozambique and eastern and southern South Africa. It generally prefers forest habitats, such as gallery forest, dense woodland, forest gorges in savanna or grassland and alien tree plantations (such as Eucalyptus and pine).

Distribution of African crowned 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.  

Food 

Stephanoaetus coronatus (African crowned eagle, Crowned eagle)  Stephanoaetus coronatus (African crowned eagle, Crowned eagle) 

African crowned eagle feeding on a Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) which it had just caught, Dlinza forest, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. [photo Hugh Chittenden ©]

It mainly eats mammals (especially hyraxes and antelope), doing most of its hunting from a perch just below the canopy, swooping down on its prey from above. Pairs sometimes hunt cooperatively to catch monkeys (such as in the photos above), using a clever technique whereby one bird flies above the canopy overhead of a monkey troop, eliciting alarm calls from them which exposes their position. The eagle's mate then follows a short while later, killing from behind any monkey unfortunate enough to be caught out in the open. It usually strikes the skull or diaphragm of prey with its talons in a downward motion, a movement powerful enough to kill instantly. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

Breeding

  • The nest (see image below) is built mainly by the female in about 5-6 weeks, consisting of a large platform built of branches up to about 1.5 metres long and lined with the leaves of Willow beachwood (Faurea saligna) and Eucalytus. It is typically placed in the highest forked branch of the tallest available smooth-barked tree, about 15-55 metres above ground. It is often positioned at the base of a ravine or at the edge of a plantation, using the same site over multiple breeding seasons and only rebuilding a new nest if the previous one is lost.
Stephanoaetus coronatus (African crowned eagle, Crowned eagle)   

African crowned eagle at its nest with chick, Dlinza forest, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. [photo Hugh Chittenden ©]

 
  • Egg-laying season is from July-May, peaking from August-October.
  • It lays 1-2, usually 2 eggs, which are incubated mainly the female for about 49-51 days. Occasionally when the male is incubating the female gives him prey as a gift, a unique behaviour among African eagles.
  • The chicks are brooded by the female for the first 21 days or so of their lives, while the male hands her a prey item to feed to them every circa one and a half days, never feeding them himself. When the young become about 60 days old the female starts to hunt for them as well, soon surpassing the male in deliveries of food to the nest. Even though it usually lays 2 eggs, only one chick usually lives to become a juvenile, meaning that it is highly likely that one chick kills and eats the other at some point during the nestling period. At about 110-115 days old the lone nestling typically clambers on to the branches surrounding the nest and takes its first flight, remaining reliant on its parents for food for 9-11 months longer before becoming fully independent.

Threats

Not threatened internationally but Near-threatened in South Africa, largely due to persecution by small stock farmers and destruction of forest habitats, although it has adapted to living in alien tree plantations which somewhat counteracts the latter.

References

  • 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. 

  • Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree. A.J., Parker, V. & Brown, C.J. (eds). 1997. The atlas of southern African birds. Vol. 2: Passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

 

 

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