The African fish-eagle is a proficient hunter, with live fish accounting for the bulk of its diet (2). It typically hunts from a high perch on a waterside tree, where it can watch for fish moving close to the water’s surface. Once prey is sighted, the African fish-eagle launches from its perch, swoops low over the water, and at the critical moment throws both feet forward to seize hold of its target with powerful talons. Small fish are carried through the air into a tree, but larger catches are dragged through the water to the shoreline. Despite only one in every seven or eight fishing attempts being successful, the African fish-eagle rarely spends more than ten minutes per day actively hunting (2). Aside from fish, this efficient raptor will also take the young of water birds such as the lesser flamingo, and very occasionally will go for monkeys, crocodile hatchlings, frogs and insects. Except for the odd dead fish, fully mature African fish-eagles rarely feed on carrion unless food is particularly scarce (2).
Adult African fish-eagles are normally seen in pairs, but on large, productive lakes, nests and roosts may be only a few hundred metres apart, and many birds can be found together in one area (2). The stick nests are usually built in a tree close to water and are used year after year, growing in size over time with the addition of reeds, papyrus heads, bulrushes and sometimes weaver nests (2) (4). Calling and duetting, whilst perched or soaring, is an integral part of the breeding display, and is combined with dramatic aerial dives and falls, with pairs interlocking talons in mid air. The female normally lays one to three eggs in the nest, which are incubated for around 44 days before hatching. Until the chicks fledge after around 65 to 75 days, it is necessary for the adults to spend considerably more time hunting for food, compared with other times of the year. In the wild, African fish-eagles that are fortunate to survive the first year have an estimated life expectancy of 12 to 24 years (2).