Crowned eagle

The crowned eagle is a very large, powerful, crested bird of prey, about 80-90 cm long, native to tropical sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Africa, it is a common resident in suitable habitat in the eastern regions. This is the only representative of the genus of crowned eagles that exists now. The second species was the Malagasy crowned eagle, which became extinct after humans began living in Madagascar.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Crowned Eagle

Photo: Crowned Eagle

Crowned Eagle, also called African crowned eagle or crowned hawk eagle is a large bird of prey that lives in Africa. Because of their resemblance, the crowned eagle is the best African equivalent of the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja).

Due to its bold and conspicuous demeanor, the crowned eagle is very well studied as a large, forest-dwelling eagle. Due to the high level of adaptability of the habitat, until recently it was considered to cope well with the standards of large predators dependent on the forest. However, today it is generally accepted that the population of the crowned eagle is declining much faster than previously thought, due to the almost epidemic destruction of local tropical African forests.

Video: Crowned Eagle

The species was first described by Carl Linnaeus in Systema Naturae and published in 1766 as Falco coronatus. Since birds were grouped according to surface characteristics, Linnaeus grouped many unrelated species into the genus Falco. The actual flattening of the taxonomy of the crowned eagle is apparently due to its feathering above the tarsus, which is usually rare in unrelated individuals.

The crowned eagle is actually part of a diverse group sometimes considered a distinct subfamily of eagles. This group includes the genus Aquilinea and all species described as “eagle hawks”, including the genera Spizaetus and Nisaetus.

Other miscellaneous monotypic genera included in this group are — it is:

  • Lophaetus;
  • Polemaetus;
  • Lophotriorchis;
  • Ictinaetus.

To date, the crowned eagle has no recognized subspecies. However, Simon Thomsett has noted possible differences between crowned eagles in limited forest habitats in eastern and southern Africa (which he called «shrub eagles»), which have historically been the main populations studied, and those that live on denser West. The latter population, he noted, looked smaller, but seemed slenderer in build and had deeper eyebrows than the bush eagle; behaviorally, rainforest eagles appeared bolder and louder, which is amplified in other reports of the species.

Appearance and Features

Photo: How does a crowned eagle

Photo: What a crowned eagle looks like

The crowned eagle has dark gray upperparts with rufous and white underparts. His belly and chest are heavily stained with black. This eagle has short, wide and rounded wings for added maneuverability in the environment. Reddish fender liner and heavily shaded white and black outer wings and tail — all this he uses in flight. The large crest (often raised) combined with the very large size of this bird makes the adult almost unmistakable at the right distance.

Juveniles are often confused with the juvenile martial eagle, especially in flight. The juvenile crowned differs from this species in that it has a much longer, more strongly pointed tail, spotted paws, and a completely white head.

To adapt to the forest environment, the crowned eagle has a long tail and wide, rounded wings. The combination of these two elements makes it extremely fast, which is one of the main reasons why it is the only eagle that actively preys on monkeys. Monkeys are very alert and fast, which makes them difficult to hunt, especially in a group. The male and female crowned eagle often hunt in pairs, while one eagle distracts the monkeys while the other makes the kill. Powerful paws and massive claws can kill a monkey with one blow. This is important because monkeys have strong arms and can easily damage an eagle's eye or wing.

Interesting fact: Some researchers consider the crowned eagle to be a very intelligent, cautious and independent animal, more inquisitive than its relatives from the hawk family.

The legs of the crowned eagle are extremely strong, and it has have huge, strong claws, often used for killing and dismembering prey. Crowned Eagle — very big bird. Its length is 80-95 cm, wingspan — 1.5-2.1 m, and body weight — 2.55-4.2 kg. Like most birds of prey, the female is larger than the male.

Where does the crowned eagle live?

Photo: Crowned Eagle in Africa

Photo: Crowned Eagle in Africa

In eastern Africa, the range of the crowned eagle extends from southern Uganda and Kenya, the forest regions of Tanzania, eastern Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, and eastern South Africa to about as far south as Knysna.

Its range also extends west to about Liberia, although its distribution in these areas is highly fragmented. The eagle is less conspicuous at the extremes of its range, being most populous between Zimbabwe and Tanzania – this is limited by denser vegetation and forests throughout its distribution.

The crowned eagle inhabits dense forests (sometimes plantations), dense wooded hillsides, dense forests, and rocky outcrops throughout its range up to 3 km above sea level. It sometimes chooses savannas and eucalyptus plantations for its habitat (especially southern populations). Due to the lack of suitable habitat (as a result of deforestation and industrialization), the range of the crowned eagle is discontinuous. If the habitat is sufficient, it can also be found near urban areas, especially in plantations.

Thus, the crowned eagle lives in places such as:

  • central Ethiopia;
  • Uganda;
  • forests of Tanzania and Kenya;
  • African jungle;
  • Senegal;
  • Gambia;
  • Sierra Leone;
  • Cameroon;
  • Guinean forest;
  • Angola.

Now you know where the crowned eagle lives. Let's see what this bird eats.

What does the crowned eagle eat?

Photo: Crowned Eagle

Photo: Crowned Eagle

Crowned Eagles — very adaptable animals like leopards. Their diet primarily consists of mammals, but preferred prey varies greatly by region. For example, crowned eagles in the South African forest of Tsitsikamma feed mainly on young antelopes. The study showed that 22% of their prey were antelopes weighing more than 20 kg.

In the tropical forest of the Thai National Park in Ivory Coast, crowned eagles eat prey with an average weight of 5.67 kg. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 88% of the crowned eagle's diet is made up of primates, including blue monkeys and black and white colobus. Red tailed monkeys are the preferred prey in Uganda's Kibale National Park.

There are also unconfirmed reports of crowned eagles preying on juvenile bonobos and chimpanzees. Despite popular belief, crowned eagles cannot carry such heavy prey. Instead, they tear their food into large, manageable pieces. It is rare that any of these pieces weigh more than the eagle itself. After the carcass breaks, the eagle carries it to the nest where it can be eaten for many days. Like leopards, one meal can sustain an eagle for a long time. This way, they don't have to hunt every day, but they can wait at their place to eat.

Crowned eagles practice what is called hunting the still. They sit motionless on a tree branch and fall directly on their prey. Unlike other eagles, they hide in the canopy of a tree, not on top of it. This is an easy way for them to hunt antelope. An eagle can wait on a branch for many hours, then in just two seconds it kills an antelope. It is also their tactic for hunting other forest animals such as rats, mongoose and even water chevrotan.

Sometimes the prey is too large and agile. So crowned eagles use the kill-and-wait hunting attack. After inflicting a bloody wound with their claws, eagles use scent to track down their prey, sometimes for days. When a wounded victim tries to keep up with the band or herd, the eagle returns to finish the kill.

Character and Lifestyle Features

Photo: Crowned Eagle Bird

Photo: Crowned Eagle Bird

The crowned eagle is non-migratory and mostly sedentary, usually inhabiting a fixed territory for most of its life. There is evidence that birds migrate moderate distances when circumstances warrant it, such as when changing males in isolated breeding grounds. Such migration is local in nature and is not comparable with the seasonal migrations of some other species of eagles (for example, the Steppe Eagle).

While an essentially elusive species (largely due to its habitat), the crowned eagle is highly vocal and has an undulating display flight. The male performs an elaborate display of rising and falling over the forest both during the breeding season and outside as a territorial offer. During this, the male is noisy and can reach a height of over 900 m.

Interesting fact: The voice of the crowned eagle is a series of loud whistles that rise and fall in the field. The female can also perform independent display flights, and pairs have also been known to work together in spectacular tandems.

During breeding, crowned eagles become much more visible and loud as they create undulating areal displays at altitudes up to 1 km. At this time, they can be noisy with a loud “kui-kui” call from the male. This ritual is usually associated with reproduction, but can also be an act of territorial dominance.

Crowned eagles are a rather nervous species, constantly alert and restless, but their hunting tactics require a lot of patience and involve long periods of waiting for prey. Older eagles are indeed bold when confronted by humans and often, if initially hesitant, finally react aggressively.

Fun fact: Despite their skill, the crowned eagle is often described as clumsy in appearance. compared to other species.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Crowned eagle in nature

Photo: Crowned eagle in nature

Crowned Eagle — monogamous, solitary breeder that breeds only once every two years. The female is the main builder of the nest, which is most often located high in the highest fork of a smooth tree near a ravine or sometimes on the edge of plantations. The nest is reused over several breeding seasons.

The crowned eagle's nest is a huge stick structure that is repaired and expanded with each breeding season, causing the nests to get bigger and bigger. Some nests grow up to 2.3 meters across, making them the largest of all eagle species.

In South Africa, the crowned eagle lays eggs from September to October, in Rhodesia — May to October, mostly around October in the Congo River region, sometime June to November in Kenya with a peak in August-October, in Uganda from December to July, and in West Africa in October.

The crowned eagle usually lays 1 to 2 eggs with an incubation period of about 50 days, during which it is the female who mainly cares for the eggs. After hatching, the chicks are fed by the female for 110 days on food brought by the male. After about 60 days, the female begins to hunt for food.

The younger chick almost always dies due to food competition or being killed by a stronger chick. After the first flight, the young eagle is still dependent on its parents for another 9-11 months while it learns to hunt for itself. It is for this reason that the crowned eagle only breeds every two years.

Natural enemies of crowned eagles

Photo: What a crowned eagle looks like

Photo: What a crowned eagle looks like

The crowned eagle is a protected species. It is not preyed upon by other predators, but is mostly threatened by habitat destruction. The crowned eagle is a naturally rare member of the order Falconiformes. The entire taxonomic series consists of only about 300 species. Its large size means that the crowned eagle needs large prey and large areas where it can establish feeding and breeding territories.

Because it prefers open or lightly wooded areas, it is most often hunted by farmers who resent its possible attacks on domestic animals. However, the main threat to the crowned eagle is the development of agricultural activities and the conversion of its original habitats to other land uses. The high degree of degradation of the Cerrado savannas, the biome with the highest concentration of the species, is the main factor threatening the existence of the crowned eagle.

Establishing protected area mosaic structures, land use and settlement planning, maintaining mandatory reservations on private lands, and maintaining permanently protected areas can be effective conservation options. It is also critical to curb the persecution and killing of people by strengthening environmental surveillance and education. Finally, a conservation program must be developed for this species before its populations in the wild are reduced to critical levels.

Population and species status

Photo: Crowned Eagle

Photo: Crowned Eagle

The crowned eagle is fairly common in suitable habitat, although numbers are declining in sync with deforestation. It is much more common in protected areas and reserves than anywhere else within its range, although it is still consistently recorded outside of those areas. Its number is probably higher than current research would suggest, although it invariably depends on the rate of deforestation, especially in the north of its range.

Due to heavy deforestation in African countries, there has been a great loss of suitable habitat for this eagle, and in many areas its distribution is fragmented. It is common in many protected areas but is declining throughout its range.

Like the slightly larger martial eagle, the crowned eagle has been persecuted throughout modern history by farmers who believe the bird is a threat to their livestock. Neither crowned nor military eagles were involved in regular attacks on livestock, and only in isolated cases did starving individuals attack calves. It is worth noting that crowned eagles, in particular, rarely leave the forest to hunt, and the occasions when they soar outside the dense forest are usually due to territorial or tribal behavior.

In April 1996 at the San Diego Zoo the world's first crowned eagle in captivity hatched. The species is currently only kept at five zoological institutions, including San Diego, the San Francisco Zoo, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Fort Worth Zoo, and the Lowry Park Zoo.

The crowned eagle is often considered the most powerful of the African eagles. The crowned eagle defies the imagination. No other inhabitant of Africa is as impressive as this huge bird of prey. With a weight of 2.5-4.5 kg, he regularly kills prey heavier than himself. These handsome hunters can hunt antelopes that are more than seven times their own weight.

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