The Wahlberg’s eagle (Hieraaetus wahlbergi) is a medium-sized eagle commonly found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It reaches a length of 53–61 cm (21–24 in) and a wingspan of 130–146 cm (51–58 in). Plumage can vary greatly between individuals. It is generally a uniform brown eagle, but some individuals can be lighter brown, some darker brown, and some even creamy white with darker wings. Individuals that are mixed with pale heads and dark body, or the other way around, can also be found. Immatures and juveniles are similar to adults.
It is often confused with other similar eagle species such as the lesser spotted eagle (Clanga pomarina), and the larger tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) and steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis). Of these, only the Wahlberg’s eagle have a small crest often seen when perched. The lesser spotted eagle has a more narrow patch of hair down towards its feet and a weaker beak. Tawny eagle, apart from being larger, has pale yellow eyes and longer and narrower nostrils, whereas the Wahlberg’s nostrils are round. Steppe eagles are also larger, and generally darker, but a distinguishing factor is the long gape at the base of the beak, stretching almost to the back of the eye, whereas the other brown eagles rarely have a gape stretching further than the center of the eye. In flight the Wahlberg’s eagle has straight wings and a long narrow tail, in contrast to the often wider tails seen on other eagles in flight.
Diet and habitat
The Wahlberg’s eagle can be found in a great variety of habitats, but avoids the lowland rainforests of Central Africa. It prefers wooded savanna, but can be seen in almost all forms of habitats within its range, even cultivated land. It will hunt either from a perch or in flight. Diet is varied, and consist of reptiles, birds, small mammals, and occasionally amphibians and invertebrates. It is also known to steal prey from long-crested eagles.
Migration and nesting
The Wahlberg’s eagle is migratory in some areas, with many individuals migrating from north to south to breed during the summer months. It is a monogamous and territorial nester, and a breeding pair displays courtship behavior in flight by circling each other and making noise. The nest is built of sticks and twigs by both parents. It is smallish, and generally situated in the fork of a tall tree. Only one egg is laid (two on very rare occasions) and incubated by the female for 44-46 days. The female will feed the chick with food provided by the male after hatching, and the chick leaves the nest after 70-75 days.
The Wahlberg’s eagle is one of the most common species of eagle in sub-Saharan Africa, with a widespread distribution. It is often found both within and outside protected areas. Only in a few areas has it seen a decline due to poisoning and habitat reduction. It is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List.