- South Carolina Birds Guide - November 23, 2022
- White-Tailed Hawk Guide (Geranoaetus albicaudatus) - November 15, 2022
- Zone-Tailed Hawk Guide (Buteo albonotatus) - October 30, 2022
Meet the most powerful eagle in Africa, with unique, unusually large razor-sharp talons and incredibly strong legs that can crush skulls and snap spines of prey weighing up to 60 pounds! Of the 30 eagle species that exist, it is no exaggeration to call the Crowned Eagle the most ferocious bird on earth. The Crowned Eagle is also one of the most beautiful raptors on the planet and reminds me of fall with browns, beiges, auburn, and black coloring. Its legs are white and black spotted, and the Crowned Eagle bears majestic striping and banding in brown, white, and black throughout its wings and tail.
The two fringes of feathers (for which it is named) at the back of the Crowned Eagle’s head are the same brown as the neck and dorsal feathers, with the central head feathers being longer, which gives the appearance of a triangular head! The Crowned Eagle, or African Crowned Eagle, is one of the most eminent raptors in the world due to its distinctive plumage and high crest silhouette. It outperforms larger, heavier raptors like the Martial Eagle and Verreaux’s Eagle.
The Crowned Eagle’s talons are the “crowning glory” of this commanding predator, with four-inch nails almost as big as the Harpy and the Golden Eagles, twice its size. Its beak doesn’t take a back seat, either, at 2 inches long with a sharp curve!
African Crowned Eagles Are Known For:
Juvenile Crowned Eagle talons (notice the down on the legs instead of feathers) This almost looks like something out of a horror movie!
African Crowned Eagle Overview
|15 years (25 in captivity)||Eagle (long broad wings)||30 to 40 inches||6.5 to 10 pounds||5 to 6.5 feet||100 mph|
|Active during the day||Diet is mainly meat||Evolved to move through trees||Hunts and kills other animals for food||Can continue flying without flapping their wings – using air currents strategically instead||Babies are immobile and unable to care for themselves||Only one mate for life||High-level interaction with other birds for survival and reproduction||Remains in home range year-round|
Crowned Eagle offering us a view of the luscious colors his underwings sport[/caption
Crowned Eagle Classification
|(Animals)||(Chordates)||(Vertebrates)||(Birds)||(Diurnal Birds of Prey)||(Eagles, hawks, and kites)||(Extremely large birds of prey in Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar)||Crowned Eagle|
The Crowned Eagle species was first categorized in 1766, with Madagascar (Malagasy) Crowned Eagle being the second species under the genus Stephanoaetus. The Crowned Eagle is the only remaining species under the genus since the Madagascar Crowned Eagle became extinct in the 1600s when Madagascar inhabitants voraciously hunted their main source of food (lemurs). In the past, the Crowned Eagle was classified as the Crowned Hawk-Eagle but has more recently been re-classified as the Crowned Eagle. The Crowned Eagle is also known as the African Crowned Eagle and the Crowned Hawk-Eagle and lives only on the continent of Africa.
African Countries of the Crowned Eagle
|Central Ethiopia||Uganda||Senegal||Forests of Tanzania|
|The Gambia||Sierra Leone||Cameroon||Forests of Kenya|
|Dem Rep of Congo||Angola||Forest of Guinea||Rep of South Africa|
Found exclusively on the African continent, you could draw a line east to west from Guinea (along the latitude of 10 degrees) to Ethiopia and have roughly the northernmost range of the Crowned Eagle, although it is rare in West Africa. The southernmost range is in Knysna, South Africa. (Latitude runs east to west, and Longitude runs north to south.) The first map shows the habitats of the Crowned Eagle in purple, and the second map references country locations and degrees of latitude and longitude.
It is interesting to note that in areas of desert climates such as most of Namibia and Sudan, you won’t find the Crowned Eagle due to scarcity of water from frequent droughts and inconsistent rainfall. In comparison, the Crowned Eagle can be found in much of tropical Mozambique, which is covered with bays, mangroves, reefs, savannahs, and forests and has the third longest coastline in Africa.
Crowned Eagle Translations
(these are just some of the languages spoken in African Countries)
Habitat of the African Crowned Eagle
The African Crowned Eagle lives in the central and eastern sub-Saharan rainforests of Africa and favors the least inhabited areas. At the edge of its range, it can be found on rocky outcrops and wooded hillsides, but it prefers dense forests. Crowned Eagles also live in gallery forests, which form a strip along a waterway and lead to open lands such as deserts, grasslands, or savannas. Ideal habitats also include Eucalyptus and Pine forest plantations near a source of water.
Due to the varying climactic nature of Africa, many areas are unsuitable for the Crowned Eagle’s habitat; this makes their range discontinuous, with large swaths of land between countries.
The Crowned Eagle is very adaptable to altitudes and rainfall levels and has been found from sea level to altitudes of 3,000 feet. In the Congo and Kenya, it lives in thick rainforests with annual rainfall amounts exceeding 50 inches! In Eastern Africa, the Crowned Eagle’s habitat is more open land with woods and savannas.
Crowned Eagles are carnivores; their diet consists of meat and rarely fish or reptiles. The diet of a Crowned Eagle mainly consists of mammals, such as hyrax, monkeys, antelopes, baboons, mongooses, porcupines, bushpigs, dogs, and livestock. Reptiles such as the monitor lizard, large tortoises, and gaming birds are also on the menu. The Crowned Eagle is particularly confrontational when hunting prey and often kills animals much larger than itself.
Crowned Eagle Identification and Markings
The Crowned Eagle weighs in at the middle of the eagle spectrum, with its length being on the longer side for eagles and an average wingspan. Females are larger than males, weighing 7 to 10 pounds, while males weigh 6 to 9 pounds. While they can live an average of 15 years in their natural habitat, once in captivity, they can reach ages from 20 to 30 years.
Crowned eagles have typical eagle silhouettes, with proportionally long broad wings, small heads, and fan-like tails (that are twice the length of the head and neck). Their wings are heavy and rounded, and their legs are densely feathered. The striking dark brown spotting on their bright white chest and thighs are easy first identifiers, while the dark brown head has a black double crest that is frequently raised. The chest is overlaid with brown-black bars, spots, and blotches with patches of cream or slightly reddish-tinged ivory. Their farthest feathers on the wing are the Primaries, crossed by two black bars, their base is white, and the tips are black. The tail is ecru with dark brownish-black stripes.
Crowned eagles have black tails with brownish bands, and you can see an auburn-brown color on their underarms closest to their body. A distinguishing feature of the Crowned Eagle’s silhouette is the super long tail built to aid the eagle in navigating through forests and among branches and changing its direction immediately in mid-flight when in a densely wooded area.
Juvenile Crowned Eagle Identification
Once the young Crowned Eagle has full juvenile plumage at 80 days, it looks quite different from what it will transform into as an adult. The back feathers are light grayish brown, and its wings have an amazing design of white edging patterned to look like scales. This fish scale edging is a helpful identification marker for a juvenile Crowned Eagle! The juvenile Crowned Eagle has a white head, breast, and abdomen, with its tail gray, brown, and black stripes. The juvenile has to wait three years to change into the dramatic coloration of an adult Crowned Eagle.
Crowned Eagle with juvenile wing edging (scales) transforming into an adult – you can already see the immensely broad and long shape of the tail
Juvenile Crowned Eagle with wing edging that looks like scales -notice the powerful legs developing
The Behavior Of the Crowned Eagle
Crowned Eagles are aggressive, wary, nervous predators generally hypervigilant and uncooperative with humans. They are very loud and shrill birds that can be silent or noisy when flapping their wings. They have no qualms about attacking animals six times their size, and in South Africa, they are frequently seen killing and eating antelope over 45 pounds. This leads them to pursue and attack any sized animal they think can be killed without much risk.
The Crowned Eagle has frequent sharp whistling that rises and falls in pitch. Capable of complex communication amongst themselves, sophisticated vocal interaction has been observed when the parents are urging the young to leave the nest for good (like humans!). Listen to the Crowned Eagle calling here and here
Protecting Its Territory
Territorial in nature, the Crowned Eagle has a repertoire of elaborate aerial displays that involve rise and fall sequences with steep ascents and dives. Both the male and female perform territorial displays to ward off other raptors, and the Crowned Eagle can fall 200 feet at a time before flapping its wings. During these displays, the eagles descend in circles and fly in figure eight. The Crowned Eagles also do air acrobatics in pairs and can perform the same movements and sounds as their mate.
The male is exceptionally vocal during these air dances, throwing his head back and loudly shrieking!
Adult female leg and talons – gorgeous coloring and immensely strong!
The African Crowned Eagle is a third-level consumer in the trophic hierarchy. Third-level animals are not hunted or killed by any other animal in their ecosystem. So, the Crowned Eagle has it pretty good and could even consider itself one of the kings of the jungle. Within this trophic system, it is the role of the third and top tier, including the Crowned Eagle, to control the population size of its prey in its ecosystem. Having top-tier expertise in hunting gives us a glimpse into an animal’s intelligence, and the Crowned Eagle is no slouch when it comes to brains.
A favorite method for mealtime is for two mates to hunt together, scouring the trees below for troops of monkeys and listening keenly for monkey chatter. Once a group of monkeys has been heard, the male will fly high and let out loud calls to scare the monkeys and elicit alarm cries, pinpointing their location and creating confusion. The female waits much lower in the treetops, and any monkey left in the open will be ambushed from behind. Her talons are pointed downwards, and she aims for the skull or the diaphragm with a powerful motion that kills instantly.
Crowned Eagle Strategies of the Hunt
Despite having evolved crafty methods of catching meals, most of the time, the Crowned Eagle will perch in a hidden area above a water source and wait for prey to appear. They are patient predators and can spend hours for the right prey to come along. Unlike the Martial Eagle of Africa, who spends most hunting time gliding and soaring through the air, the Crowned Eagle’s wings are built for tight maneuvers around tree limbs in the forest, not for extended gliding.
The Crowned Eagle tries to conserve energy whenever possible in hunting for prey and will avoid any unnecessary movements or expenditures of energy. Crowned Eagles will perch under the canopy of tall trees and swoop down to snatch their prey with pointy nails that go right through the skin. The Crowned Eagle’s goal is to kill the prey upon impact with fatal skull or spine injuries. If the eagles cannot crush their skull or snap their spine, as in the case of tortoises, they will pick up their prey and carry it to high heights, looking for rocks below to drop the animal, diving down to dismember it.
Signed Fine Art Print at InkArt
The Crowned Eagle’s Eyesight for Hunting
The eyesight of the Crowned Eagles plays a huge role in the effective execution of the hunt, and it is specially designed to have long-distance focus and clarity. Being able to see four times as many details as humans due to the minimized diffraction from their larger pupils, the help of their ridge that shields the eye from sunlight, and the higher concentration of cones in their retinas. This all adds to an “Eagle Eye” that can pinpoint prey from hundreds of yards away.
This supervision allows the Crowned Eagle to hunt its prey from altitudes between 5,000 and 8,000 feet, plunging sharply at speeds over 100 mph to grab its prey without landing. Eagles feel most comfortable flying at high altitudes, separating them from other birds. Regardless of how much the prey struggles, the Crowned Eagle will not give up its fight and is a worthy adversary for even the largest of meals.
This bionic vision benefits the Crowned Eagle’s hunt for food and allows them to survey and protect their nest from far away. Though the eagle builds the huge nest, or eyrie, high up in a tall tree, snakes are very adept at reaching the nest to eat the eggs. The Crowned Eagle can spot the snake on the ground or on the tree and reach it before the snake reaches the nest. The Crowned Eagle can even spot another eagle flying 50 miles away!
Courtship and Mating of the African Crowned Eagle
The female Crowned Eagle begins to breed at about five years of age and then every other year thereafter due to the extended brooding period. These eagles are monogamous for life and use the same nest for breeding unless it has been destroyed.
The Crowned Eagle is an intelligent bird, and the male must earn the female’s trust before breeding. When the female eagle is ready to mate, she looks for a capable and dedicated male by creating a flying challenge. After meeting a male, the female will pick up a stick and fly into the air, signaling the male to follow her. Once the male has reached her height, she will drop the stick for the male to chase and catch it and bring it back to her. Once the male retrieves it and gives it back to the female, she will climb to a higher altitude and repeat the process. This continues until the female eagle is assured of the male’s devotion to her. They then perform aerial rituals and lock talons. After that, the pair will perch near their nesting site, and the male will raise his wings and hop in circles around the female. Once that happens, they are mated monogamously for life
This is a spectacular example of how eagles woo their mates, and this Golden Eagle shows similar moves to the Crowned Eagle in this beautiful video.
Crowned Eagle Breeding Snapshot
|Mating Season||July through November|
|Mating Habits||Monogamous for life|
|Incubation (Brooding)||49 days|
|First Feathers||40 days|
|Wing exercises begin||40-50 days|
|Crown Appears||2 months|
|Juvenile Plumage||80 days|
|Fledging (first flight)||4 months|
|Independent of Parents||14 months|
Nesting and Breeding
The breeding season runs from July to November, and nests are placed in treetops 50-150 feet above the ground near a water source in a wooded area.
Building their massive nest requires long hours of intensive work over many months. The Crowned Eagle’s nest is made of branches, twigs, and soft leaves. The male Crowned Eagle is responsible for most of the nest construction, and the female will scout out appropriate materials and bring them back to the male. It takes up to six months for the pair to complete the nest, but it is home for life after that. Both males and females monitor the condition of the nest and add to it, making repairs throughout the year. If the nesting area is large enough, the eagles will build a huge nest that can reach 8 feet or more in diameter and ten feet deep.
Clutch Size of the Crowned Eagle
Survival of the fittest is at work in the Crowned Eagle’s nest once the eggs appear, with two being the maximum number and one being more usual. If there are two eggs, a battle will ensue when they hatch, with the stronger one killing and eating the weaker soon after hatching. The parents do not intervene in this natural selection, and a female chick often remains due to the size difference between males and females.
The young hatch without any feathers but have soft down. The crest feathers of the Crowned Eagle appear after two months, and their first feathers appear after 40 days. They have a full plumage at 80 days. The female Crowned Eagle nudges the young to initiate their wing-flapping exercises when they are between 40 and 50 days old, and they fly for the first time at four months.
During the first two months, the male brings the food back to the nest with both male and female hunting food with the male after that. Soon after, the female hunts and returns most of the food to the nest. While waiting for the male to return with the food, the female Crowned Eagle and the baby loudly communicate to the male when they are waiting for him to return with their food!
The chicks can swallow the whole prey that the parent brings back for it, and the longer bones may rest in their throat until the stomach acids digest the lower part of the bone! At that time, the chick can swallow it!
Both parents fiercely protect the baby, and if anything comes close to the nesting tree, they attack it ferociously, most times killing it. Parents feed the chick four or five times weekly for the next 12 to 14 months until the baby Crowned Eagle becomes independent and leaves the nest. This extended period of dependence on the parents is why the Crowned Eagles only breed every two years.
Elderly Crowned Eagles Habits
As the Crowned Eagle ages, its feathers become less dense, and some of them may be lost or broken. This hinders the eagle’s ability to fly quickly and perform routine maneuvers, making hunting less effective. Once this happens, the eagle will retire into rocky areas and remove all of its feathers until there is nothing but skin left! Then the eagle waits until strong, thick feathers cover it as they did when it was younger, and it will look for a new location.
Threats to the Crowned Eagle
Is the Crowned Eagle a Threatened Species?
Due to the consistent and pervasive destruction of native tropical African forests, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) status is considered NT (near threatened).
The Crowned Eagle is seen frequently in the wetland forest and coasts of Sub-Saharan Africa, but it is rare to catch a glimpse of it in West Africa, where its population is consistently declining.
The Crowned Eagle is largely welcomed by foresters but is subject to numerous threats in all areas. Deforestation for timber, charcoal production, and developing plantations is becoming more commonplace every year, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat for the Crowned Eagle in Africa. Increasing Crowned Eagle fatalities are noted from collisions with wiring, fences, glass structures, wind turbines, and utility poles.
In some areas, humans hunt the same prey as the Crowned Eagle, with six million tons of bushmeat harvested from the Amazon and Congo Basin. This meat comes from animals such as boar, antelope, monkeys, pygmy hippos, bats, and chimpanzees.
There is also direct targeting of the Crowned Eagle for its prized crest and brightly-hued feathers. Different parts of the eagle are used for food, witchcraft, and ornamental decor.
African Crowned Eagle Facts
- The eagles do not eat things that are already dead. They are not scavengers like vultures.
- Eagles are the only birds that love storms and fly into the heart of them. The strong wind currents carry the eagles rapidly higher and higher without the eagle having to use any energy.
- The Crowned Eagle has the longest “childhood” season of any raptor, up to 14 months before becoming independent.
- The Crowned Eagle, the leopard, and the hyena are three of the earliest known predators of upright hominids. To this day, human bones are still found in Crowned Eagle’s nest trees and food caches (rarely).
- The Crowned Eagle can reach speeds of 100 mph and then suddenly brake to a stop in just 20 feet! That’s better than my car!
- Crowned Eagles can be exceptionally quiet when they fly – similar to an owl’s silent flight abilities!
- The Crowned Eagle is the only surviving member of the Genus Stephanoaetus
- The Juvenile Crowned Eagle is similar to the Martial eagle, except the Crowned Eagle has underparts and underwings that are buffer than the Martial eagle. The Crowned Eagle also has spotted sides and wider bars on the tail.
- After being separated for a time, the male and female will perform astonishing aerial displays for each other, such as climbing to high heights and then freefalling thousands of feet before flapping their wings just seconds from hitting the ground.
Answer: The Crowned Eagle shares its territory with its mate, and both protect an area of about 18 miles. This is considered small compared to a bird of its size, and in comparison, the Martial Eagle of Africa has a territory that is 150 miles.
Answer: No, Crowned Eagles are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. Crowned Eagles usually hunt for food at dawn and then again at dusk, sometimes waiting hours in a passive mode until they spot adequate prey.
Answer: No, the African Crowned Eagle does not migrate and stays in one territory for its whole life unless there is a loss of habitat due to deforestation. They are sedentary birds, preferring to roam within their 15-mile territory, protecting it, and spending time with their mate. The juvenile Crowned Eagle is the most active when looking for its own, new territory after reaching an independent age of 14 months.
Last Look at the African Crowned Eagle
This genetic wonder was built for strength, kill power, high-speed maneuvering amongst trees, and, ironically, raising eaglets! Having one of the longest bird breeding cycles, both males and females are specialists in rearing their young. More than a year is needed for the juvenile Crowned Eagle to gain full independence and seek out his territory. Fiercely protective and territorial, they immediately attack anything near the nest. That includes humans, as human remains have also been found near nesting sites that were inaccessible to other predators.
Not to worry, these African beauties seek remote forests and mountain jungles up to 3,000 feet above sea level in trees up to 150 feet! If you see a nest, you must be trying very hard to find one! I would use a metal helmet and a Kevlar vest.
To appreciate the survival instincts of the Crowned Eagle, think of the dinosaur birds that flew around 150 million years ago and how they were the only type of dinosaur to survive a giant asteroid hitting the earth 66 million years ago. They have evolved greatly since then and probably stayed alive because they could eat a variety of foods, they could fly, and were relatively small. If you want to know more about how birds evolved from the dinosaur group Theropods, read this article from UC Berkeley!
- San Diego Zoo
- iziko Museums of South Africa
- Animal Diversity Organization
- Bird Life International
- Global Issues Today
- National Geographic
- World Atlas
- Shandon Crowned Eagle Project
- International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources IUCN
- Avian Report
- Bird Fact
- A-Z Animals
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