Visit any part of Southern Africa blessed with mountainous terrain or rocky hillsides inhabited by dassies (or Hyraxes as they are better known) and you will be sure to spot a pair of these magnificent large black birds soaring to great heights whilst riding thermals. Here at Dwyka tented camp you will find just that. With wings narrow at the base and broader at the distal end , with white “windows” in the primary feathers and a broad white Y-pattern on the back , this eagle is unmistakeable .It easily dominates the skies above Sanbona with it’s impressive wingspan, and imposing size, some 4.5 kg’s.
The sexes are alike in plumage , although the female is a little bigger than the male and has more white on the back. Feeding mainly on dassies, they will also take hares, squirrels, baboons as well as a variety of birds such as guineafowl, korhaans and doves. They have also been observed carrying tortoises up high and then dropping them to break open the shells.
These eagles mate for life and will usually be seen in pairs. Highly territorial, with territory size being dictated by the amount of food supply that is available which as has been mentioned, is dassies. They hunt by suprising their prey in a fast stoop, but may also hunt from a perch. With dassies being such an integral part of their diet, these 2 species constantly battle each other in a struggle that has been going on long before humans have been able to record it – convergant evolution – where 2 species constantly adapt to outwit each other. Most activity though takes place early morning or late afternoon, spending the hotter part of the day in the shade, as these are the peak activity times for both species.
The nest is a platform of sticks up to two meters in diameter with a bowl 30-40 cm deep, lined with leaves usually located on a cliff edge rather than a tree. The same nest is used for many years. Usually a clutch of two creamy-white eggs are laid which are 3-4 days apart, and hatch about 45 days later. Guests at Dwyka have over the last year been priveledged enough to lay witness to the resident Verreaux’s eagle inhabiting her nest sites, of which there are 2, and have watched in awe as the chick fledges and learns to soar the thermals that rise above Dwyka.
It seems fitting in that this female has chosen to nest at Dwyka – so that all who work and visit there can be a part of her raising her young on Sanbona Wildlife reserve.
by Trevor Myburgh
Pictured above: Verreaux’s Eagle