For many Africans the true call of the wild does not belong to the likes of what many of our overseas guests would imagine. It is not the heart stopping roar of the Lion the ‘King of the Jungle’ or the tremendous trumpet of the worlds largest land mammal the African elephant. This prestigious award often goes to a bird. But not just any bird. It belongs to one of Africa’s most magnificent and unmistakeable pirates of the sky, the African Fish Eagle.

With its head thrown back, even in flight it bellows a loud “kow, kow, kowkowkow”. This sound will stop many in their tracks as they lift their heads to the heavens to try and get a glimpse. The unmistakeable white head, white tail, rufous body and dark wings, makes it one of the easiest of the Eagles to identify especially for non-twitchers. Luckily still fairly common, it ranges over most of Africa south of the Sahara inhabiting rivers, dams, estuaries, lagoons and even the open sea-shore.

As its name suggest, it has a particular liking to fish but will also eat rats, the young of cormorants, egrets and flamingos. However as with a number of animals it is known to be a kleptoparasite. Given the chance it would rather steal food than waste its own energy catching for itself. Believed to be a truly monogamous species it will mate for life rather than seasonally. Nesting on cliffs or in large trees they will often re-use the same nest resulting in huge nests of over 2metres across and 1.2metres deep. Females lay 1-3 mainly white eggs, which she will incubate unless she is away hunting for food and that is when the male will take his turn. Incubation can take about 45 days and the chicks will remain in the nest for up to 75 days. Once fledged they will rely on the care of their parents for another 3 months. Fish Eagle chicks do not practice siblicide, the killing of one chick by another. This means that up to 3 young may make it to adulthood giving these birds a distinct advantage with regards to success over other eagles which do undertake this practice.

All Eagles are looked upon with great reverence by local African people. They are seen as purifiers and protectors of the wilderness. Regarded as the messengers of god of light they are know in the Zulu language as ‘ukosi’ this is derived from a word which means ‘king’ or of royal blood. Therefore they see these birds as royal birds. In ancient times only people of royal blood were allowed to wear the feathers of Eagles on their person. It is believed if you dream of eagles then you have the protection of god and should fear nothing or no one. Should a man travelling through the bush come across the shell of an eagle’s egg it was regarded as a good omen. This man would have many children and his children would become shamans, diviners, healers and prophets.

So should you be lucky enough to experience a trip to this incredible continent. Don’t forget to listen out for Africa’s call of the wild.

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