Long-crested Eagle, Lophaetus occipitalis
The Long-crested Eagle is 53 - 58 cm in length and has a wingspan of 112 -129cm. Sexes of the Long-crested Eagle adult look alike. General colour is dark brown or black. The most distinctive feature of this eagle is its long, droopy crest usually held erect. It has long white patches at the joint of the wings, visible when it perches, forming white lines on each side of the breast. Underwing coverts are white, with black spots. It has a broad dark tail strongly barred pale grey with a broad dark terminal band. Leggings are whitish. Hooked bill is yellow with dark tip. Eyes are rich golden yellow. Feet are yellow with slender talons.
Immature birds are similar to adults, but browner. Wing coverts and neck feathers show white tips. Crest is less prominent. Eyes and feet are duller.
The Long-crested Eagle is considered to have a shorter lifespan than other similarly sized eagles, with its longevity set around 15 years.
Distribution and habitat:
The Long-crested Eagle is largely sedentary, and lives in woodlands or cultivated areas, and open lands with trees. It can be found in moist savannahs and in cleared forest areas and forest edges adjacent to grasslands, marshes or rivers from sea level to 2300 metres elevation, except in arid zones. This eagle lives in Africa south of the Sahara, from Senegal to Ethiopia, and southward to the Cape. In South Africa its major concentrations are along the escarpments of Mpumalanga and the Limpopo provinces and the Natal midlands.
It rests during the day under the shadow of a tall tree. It is often conspicuously perched on trees, fences or telegraph poles on the side of roads. Pairs usually have regular areas where they can be seen day after day.
Long-crested eagle is a noisy bird, as well on perch as flying, especially at the beginning of the breeding season when it calls loudly from perches around the nest site. It utters loud and sharp calls during display. A variety of calls are used to announce its arrival at the nest to relieve the brooding partner or when about to feed the chicks.
It is an all-embracing feeder with particular preference for rodents and will take animals up to the size of a fully grown cane rat (about 1 kg in weight). It also will occasionally eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, crabs, fish and insects down to the size of termites. Long-crested eagles have been observed to eat some wild fruit too.
This eagle is mostly a perch-hunter. It hunts generally in the early morning or at dusk over a fairly small area, dropping from an exposed perch on its prey to catch it, with an estimated 40 percent success rate. Infrequently hunts other birds on-the-wing, attacking from above.
Breeding and nesting:
Long-crested eagle's nest is often located in a river valley with large trees. Nest is built at height of 7 to 20 metres in a large tree, such as wild fig or eucalyptus. The nest is made with small sticks. A deep central cup is lined with green leaves. Nest is normally sited in the middle of the tree, well protected from the sun, in a fork or on a lateral branch. These eagles are monogamous and territorial breeders. The nest is built and repaired by both adults, and it is used year after year, up to five years consecutively.
The female lays one or two dull white eggs, spotted with brown and grey, any time year-round. Eggs may be laid as much as two weeks apart.
During incubation period, female is fed by the male, near the nest. But she leaves the nest to hunt herself sometimes. The male stays near the nest, roosting in the same tree or close by. Incubation lasts about 42 days
In the first weeks after hatching, female remains or on near the nest while male brings food. After three weeks, female hunts more than male. The young reaches its plumage at about 28 days, and remains around the nest from 40 to 50 days. It performs its first flight at about 55 days. Then, it moves rapidly away from the site. It is fed by both parents another two weeks.
This species produces one single brood per year, occasionally two chicks are reared. Little sibling aggression has been reported, in spite of huge differences in size. Over a 10-year period a pair may successfully raise 7 chicks. Factors contributing to brooding failure are strong winds damaging the nest or fatally injuring the chicks, nest abandonment due to tree-felling operations and predation of the nest by other animals. A pair often relays after a brooding failure.
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