The Call of Africa
We set off for our afternoon safari from Kapama’s Buffalo camp. It was a wonderful and warm sunny afternoon in Africa. It just so happened to be my guest’s very first safari. There was immense excitement to see what the bushveld will deliver. As we made our way along the road close to the river, that all too famous call was heard. It echoed through the clear air, sending chills down our spines. The sound was there, but no sign of the one responsible for this distinctive call.
An expert birder was not needed to identify the call, as everyone immediately knew what it was. I decided to drive further along the river. On an old dead tree next to the water there it was, posing perfectly still on a branch busy scouting for its next meal. With the sun in the perfect spot, we set our eyes on The African Fish-eagle. It is one of the most recognisable birds in Southern-Africa and its famous call is one of the most fascinating calls of the African bush – it is often referred to as the “voice of Africa”.
Like many raptors, the African fish-eagle is monogamous and are believed to mate for life. Pairs generally remain within close sight of each other for most of the day and are intensely territorial. The size of territories varies according to food availability, and they are fiercely defended all year round by both partners.
Its diet consists mostly of fish which it usually catches by making a shallow swooping dive with its feet thrown forward to seize them 15 – 30 cm below the surface. Their feet are specially adapted for this; in addition to the formidable talons, they have small spikes on the underside which help to grip slippery fish. Fish eagles can lift fish up to about 2kg clear of the water and fly with them firmly grasped in their talons. They also eat reptiles such as monitor lizards, terrapins and crocodile hatchlings and mammals including hyraxes, rodents and vervet monkeys.
To reach this beautiful plumage of adulthood it has to go through several moults and can take between four and five years. The African fish eagle has talons that can reach up to 5cm in length. It is these impressive talons that are used to snatch fish out of the water as well as grab fast-moving prey off the ground. The African fish-eagle has immense strength and some fish-eagles have been reported to be able to catch catfish that are the same weight and size as they are.
They are very persistent birds, and even though only every sixth hunting attempt is successful, they are still not discouraged. The African fish-eagle is also a very good indicator of a healthy body of water according to scientists as they will not eat from or hunt near water that has been contaminated.
For my guests, this was a wonderful first safari and such a memorable sighting. To get up close with one of Africa’s famous and well-known birds, to hear that infamous “Call of Africa” as if to welcome them and prepare them for the rest of the Bushveld adventure that awaits.
Story and photos by: Ranger Hancho – Buffalo Camp