Tawny Eagle, Aquila rapax
The Tawny Eagle is 62-72 cm in length and has a wingspan of 165-185cm. It is universally described as scruffy. The TE looks very similar to the migratory Steppe Eagle, however the two can be told apart by the length of the yellow gape flange which never extends much beyond the middle of the eye in the Tawny Eagle. Heavy bill is dark grey and yellow. The nostril is clearly elongated, or oval. Eyes are yellow-amber. Legs are well covered (appear like baggy trousers) with reddish-brown feathers, talons are yellow. The upperparts are generally tawny while the flight feathers and the long and slightly rounded tail are blackish. The lower back is very pale. While the pictures below show the more typical plumage they also have pale morphs some of which can be almost white, especially in the dry western parts of Southern Africa. Immature birds are less contrasted than adults, but both show a range of variation in plumage colour.
The TE was once considered to be closely related to the migratory Steppe Eagle, Aquila nipalensis
. They were split based on pronounced differences in morphology and anatomy (Clark, 1992; Olson, 1994; Sangster et al., 2002)
; molecular analysis indicates that these birds are not even each other's closest relatives.
Lifespan of the TE is set at around 45 years.
Distribution and habitat:
In southern Africa they are found in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Northern and Eastern Namibia, central and Eastern South Africa. They are common in game reserves but rare and declining elsewhere, especially in the Cape Province.
Throughout its range, Africa both north and south of the Sahara Desert and across tropical south-western Asia to India, it favours open dry habitats, such as desert, semi-desert, steppes, or savannah with scattered trees.
The TE is resident and territorial and movements will be driven by food concentrations or juveniles finding their own ranges.
The TE is solitary to somewhat gregarious, especially at good food supply.
It will usually perch on the top of trees.
The call of the Tawny Eagle is a crow-like barking, but it is rather a silent bird except in display.
It is an all-embracing feeder with no particular preference that will take mammals up to the size of a fully grown springhare (about 4 kg in weight). It also will eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects down to the size of termites. Tawny Eagles will scavenge and may be seen alongside vultures usually at a fresh carcass. They are known to steal prey from other birds. They spend much time near water and drink freely.
The Tawny Eagle prefers open areas to hunt by swooping from a perch or in flight, or will chase down prey while walking on the ground.
Breeding and nesting:
Monogamous, breeding occurs mainly from April to July.
The nest consists of a bulky, flat platform of twigs and sticks, lined with grasses and green leaves, some bits of paper and plastic. It is situated most often at the top of a thorny tree, usually Acacia, occasionally on rock face or on the ground. Sometimes usurps other large nests. A clutch of 1-3 white or creamy eggs, speckled with reddish-brown, 70 x 55 mm in size, is laid two days apart. Incubation lasts about 39 to 44 days, is mostly performed by the female with short spells by the male. Chicks are covered with white down. They have brown eyes, black and yellow bill, and yellow legs. At about two weeks, the first down is replaced by thicker down. At this stage the eaglets start to leave the nest for several hours at a time. At about three weeks, scapulars and coverts appear. Plumage is complete at about ten weeks. Young are fed near the nest, and can frequently be seen to exercise their wings. They leave the nest when they are about 80 days old, but they still depend on parents for six weeks more. The young may remain with their parent(s) until the next breeding season.
The older chick frequently kills the younger, but clutches with two young do occur. Young are aggressive when they are five weeks old. When threatened at nest, they open their bills and spread out their wings to intimidate the intruder.