Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii), alternatively known as the Black Eagle
It is 75 to 96 cm long. Males weigh 3 to 4.2 kg and females weigh 3.1 to 5.8 kg. It has a wingspan of 1.81 to 2.2 m It is black with a distinct white V marking on its back. Juveniles are usually light and dark brown with a black face. Structurally, it is very similar to the Golden Eagle of the Northern Hemisphere, and the Wedge-tailed Eagle of Australia.
It is a specialist hunter of hyraxes (or dassies). The size of its territory often inversely reflects the size of the local hyrax population. Occasionally, it will prey on ground birds such as guinea fowl or francolin and mammals of similar size to hyraxes, such as large rodents.
It is highly territorial and can often be seen with another Verreaux’s Eagle, with whom it mates for life. The pair will lay two cream-colored eggs, four days apart in autumn, and these will hatch approximately 45 days later. In Southern Africa the breeding season stretches from April to June, sometimes into August. Its nest is a huge stick-nest platform in the shape of a platform. The nest’s diameter is about 1.5-2m. The 30–40 cm diameter bowl is lined with green leaves. The nest is usually situated on a cliff ledge, rarely in a tree. The nest site is generally marked by a ‘whitewash’ which is formed by the birds’ droppings.
The name commemorates the French naturalist Jules Verreaux, who visited southern Africa in the early 18th century.
The principal threat is the loss of prey populations through hunting by humans and displacement of hyrax from their rocky habitats. There is a long history of eagle persecution in sheep farming areas of southern Africa and at one stage the governments paid bounties for this. The levels of persecution were very high – on a par with the killing of Golden Eagles in the States and Wedge-tailed Eagles in Australia – and would have created localised population ‘sinks’. Fortunately those days are largely gone now and most farmers in southern Africa have become enlightened about the beneficial effects of having eagles on the farm. It is easy for the situation to slip and so it is important for conservation and education programmes to be ongoing. However, because they live in remote places, and because they prefer to catch live prey rather than scavenge, Verreaux’s Eagles have not suffered as badly as other large eagles through persecution and poisoning.
A new and worrying threat to Verreaux’s Eagles in Africa will be the provision of wind farms to provide energy. These structures, like unsafe electricity pylons before, are known causes of mortality for large raptors. It is very likely that electricity companies will want to put up wind farms in high lift areas on African mountains and ridges and these areas will converge with where Verreaux’s Eagles prefer to fly. Stringent environmental impact assessments need to be carried out to minimise this threat but it is hard to see how wind farms will not have a harmful effect on this eagle if there is an uptake in Africa along the lines seen in parts of Europe.