There are about 2386 bird species in Africa, making it heaven to bird watchers and those who love learning about these fantastic creatures. As a matter of fact, several African countries rank among the highest bird species density per square mile.
Birds of prey have several unique features that set them apart from other birds. Most of them are hunters, except for vultures that eat animals that are already dead.
These majestic birds are characterized by their hooked beaks, strong vision, and sharp claws that allow them to catch large animals, fly with them, and tear them into pieces.
In this article, we’ll talk about the most common and famous African birds of prey, where to find them, and what’s unique about them. So, keep on reading.
Africa is richly biodiverse with almost one-quarter of the world’s biodiversity, thanks to the animals, plants, birds, and insects that live across its lands.
If you’re interested in learning about African raptors, you’ve come to the right place because we’ll talk about the most famous ones in detail.
1. African Fish Eagle
The African fish eagle or the African sea eagle is a widely spread eagle that can be found near bodies of water in Africa. It’s the national bird of Zambia and Namibia and has different names in various African languages.
Author Note: The African fish eagle looks a lot like the bald eagle, which is native to North America. It’s a large bird, where female birds can weigh as heavy as 7.9 pounds, while male birds are typically smaller.
It’s mostly brown with black wings and a yellow face, while the head, breast, and tail are white. The African fish eagle is usually found near freshwater lakes and rivers, especially near the Orange River and Lake Malawi.
This bird perches near water bodies and then dives to catch the fish. It’s able to catch prey that’s almost ten times its weight, but in this case, it’s usually too heavy to lift. So instead, it drags the fish across the water until it reaches the shore.
This eagle sometimes steals the catch of other birds. It also feeds on waterbirds like ducks, baby crocodiles, turtles, frogs, and lizards. Pairs usually mate for life and have several nests that they frequently use.
2. Spotted Eagle-owl
The spotted eagle-owl is mostly found in Southern Africa, where it feeds on small mammals, birds, rodents, and reptiles. It’s one of the smallest eagle owls that can be found in Africa.
This owl has a small pale face with bright yellow eyes. It has prominent ear tufts, and the upper part of the body is brown, while the lower part is off-white with brown barring. It’s easy to spot near the urban areas in the Sub-Saharan region.
Despite its small size, the spotted eagle-owl usually swallows its prey as a whole, with lots of pausing and resting in between. After 24 hours, the owl regurgitates the undigested bones and feathers into pellets. When the prey is too big, the owl tears it into pieces, and it does this while feeding nestlings.
Young owls don’t hoot until they become adults, but they can hiss from a very young age. Pairs are monogamous but will take a new mate if the partner is dead. The spotted eagle-owl likes to nest on the ground but will accept a man-made nesting box.
3. Black-chested Snake Eagle
The black-chested snake eagle belongs to a large family of snake eagles that can be found in several parts of Africa. It has a brown-black head and chest with white underparts.
This eagle is seen across different East and Southern African regions, spreading from Sudan to South Africa. It can also be found in several locations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon.
The black-chested snake eagle can be found in open woodlands, grasslands, savannas, and desert areas.
Top Tip: In most cases, you might be able to see a single eagle, but some eagles roost in communities of up to 200 individuals. Eagles are often seen perching on phone poles.
This eagle mostly feeds on snakes, lizards, small mammals, and frogs. It hunts from a perch or by hovering over the ground. The black-chested snake eagle builds a small nest on the crown of flat-topped acacia trees, and the female usually lays one egg.
4. African Harrier-hawk
The African harrier-hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey with an overall gray body and some barring on the belly. It has a black tail with a wide white band, and female birds look like males.
It can be found in Western Africa and is less commonly found in Eastern and Southern African regions. The African harrier-hawk lives in various habitats, including forests, areas around rivers, agricultural lands, and urban areas.
It can be seen in the rural villages of Guinea-Bissau and usually builds its nest in palm trees found in urban gardens.
Unlike other raptors, the African harrier-hawk has double-jointed knees, which allow it to reach into the holes and cracks to look for its prey. Thanks to its ability to climb, it raids cavity nests that belong to woodhoopoes and barbets to feed on the young birds.
It also feeds on feral pigeons, small mammals, and the oil palm fruit.
5. Lappet-faced Vulture
The lappet-faced vulture or Nubian vulture can be found in various areas in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Egypt, Sudan, and Somalia. It’s mostly absent from Western and Central Africa, but is also known to breed in Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
This vulture is a large bird of prey and can reach up to 9.5 feet in height. Male birds can weigh up to 20 pounds, while female birds can weigh up to 30 pounds.
It has a blackish-brown above with a white or buff belly. In Southern Africa, the birds have reddish heads, which are usually dull pink in the Northern birds. It doesn’t have feathers on the head that would be otherwise difficult to keep clean as it feeds on bloody dead animals.
The vulture lives in the dry savanna and arid plains because it prefers open undisturbed areas. It’s a scavenging bird that feeds on dead animals, and its feeding preferences can drive it to approach urban areas where it might find roadkill.
It’s one of the most aggressive and strongest vultures in Africa, and this is why weaker vultures would make way for the lappet-faced vulture if a carcass is found.
Using its strong bill, it can tear through the hide and muscles of larger mammals, including elephants.
This vulture occasionally steals the prey of eagles or other raptors and can even attack live and weak impalas, flamingos, and guineafowls.
6. Tawny Eagle
The tawny eagle belongs to the family of booted eagles. It prefers to live in the arid and dry regions of Africa and can also be found in Southern Arabia and the Indian subcontinent.
Top Tip: If you want to see the tawny eagle, you need to head to the forest-savanna mosaics in West Africa. It’s also found in the dry woodlands and forested areas in Morocco.
This eagle has a long neck and is either gray-brown or rufous-tawny with some pale spotting on the belly. It’s considered a large bird of prey, although it’s medium-sized compared to other eagles. The female tawny eagle is usually 15% bigger than the male, and birds usually weigh between 3.3 and 6.8 pounds.
Tawny eagles tend to be silent, but males are usually more vocal than females. This raptor is a scavenger and usually feeds on carrion. It often also feeds on animals that were caught by other raptors.
7. Long-legged Buzzard
The Long-legged buzzard is found in several areas in North and East Africa, and it’s also found in Eurasia and East Asia. This raptor lives in various habitats, including cliffs, trees, and rocks across Libya, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, in addition to the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
It has a small head and long wings and tail. The buzzard has strong feet but usually walks slowly, and can be seen perching on utility poles while looking for its prey.
This buzzard has different morphs, including pale, intermediate, rufous, and dark. It isn’t known to be vocal, and its call isn’t well studied.
If you want to see this buzzard, you need to head to the open uncultivated areas with high bushes or trees, where this raptor prefers to live. It usually picks its nesting areas where there’s access to fresh water.
Despite being described as sluggish, the long-legged buzzard is powerful and active. It spends a long time scanning the ground for prey and can even watch it while it’s standing on the ground, usually next to the prey’s burrow or nest.
The long-legged buzzard feeds on birds, small mammals, rodents, reptiles, and insects. It also feeds on the decaying flesh of dead animals.
The osprey is a large bird of prey that lives near water bodies because it mainly feeds on fish. It can be found in Western African countries like Senegal, but some birds from Eastern Europe migrate to South Africa in the winter.
The osprey is found in different regions worldwide, usually called the fish hawk or river hawk. It has a white head with a dark mask across the eyes, which are usually golden brown. The feet are white, and the bill is black.
Author Note: Unlike other birds of prey, the female osprey isn’t significantly larger, but the male has a slightly slimmer body. It feeds on fish that measure up to 14 inches but can sometimes feed on rodents, rabbits, birds, and reptiles.
The osprey has a strong vision with which it can detect the movement of fish underwater, even though it might be soaring at the height of 131 feet. It hovers over the water and dives with its feet first to capture the fish.
While doing so, the osprey doesn’t mind getting completely submerged in water, and it adjusts its diving angle to compensate for the distortion caused by refraction.
9. Scissor-tailed Kite
The scissor-tailed kite or the African swallow-tailed kite is found in the Northern tropic regions of Africa. It’s also called the fork-tailed kite due to the distinctive shape of the tail.
It’s a slim gray-white bird of prey with a deeply forked tail, and adult birds have red eyes. This kite can be found in several African countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
It mainly feeds on lizards and snakes and usually catches insects flushed by grass fires. During the migration season of termites and locusts, scissor-tailed kites gather to chase them.
It usually builds its nest next to the nest of a larger predator like a snake eagle and can be found near urban areas. The scissor-tailed kite is considered a vulnerable species because of the loss of its habitat and the use of pesticides.
10. Dark Chanting Goshawk
The dark chanting goshawk is a raptor that can be found across the Sub-Saharan region in Africa and in Southern Morocco, and it can also be found in Southern Arabia. It prefers to live in broad-leafed woodlands and avoids dense forests and deserts.
This hawk has an upright stance that makes it look larger than it really is. The head and breast are usually gray, while the underparts are barred with black.
Author Note: It’s a vocal bird and usually calls while it’s flying or perching. The dark chanting goshawk makes a series of whistles and piping notes that explain its name.
It can even take prey as large as the helmeted guineafowl or the common dwarf mongoose.
Luckily, different birds of prey can be found across Africa.
Although most of them don’t prefer to nest near urban areas, the quest to find these beautiful creatures is a worthy adventure as you discover this beautiful continent.
We hope you enjoyed this guide on the most common African birds of prey.