African Hawk-Eagle: The Ultimate Guide

The African Hawk-Eagle is a medium-sized bird of prey that belongs to the Accipitridae (Eagle) family. Officially known as the Aquila spilogaster, these special birds are found in parts of tropical Sub-Saharan Africa. The African Hawk-Eagle is most commonly known for its distinctive call. 

Here is the ultimate guide to the African Hawk-Eagle!


African Hawk-Eagles are a medium-sized bird of prey that reaches around 22-26” in length and weigh 3.3-4 lb on average.

As the name suggests, these birds look like a mixture between a hawk and an eagle, with the slim body and head of a hawk paired with the distinctive white and black streaked underparts like an eagle.

When in flight, the underwing feathers are predominantly white with a black edge. The underwing coverts are predominantly black with white patches. The upper parts of the body are mostly blackish, with slight variations of white spots or brown areas. 

As juveniles, these birds have lighter feathers that darken overtime. Young African Hawk-Eagles are predominantly brown with rufous (brownish-red) coloration on the underparts, which turn black with age. 

The main bit of color in an African Hawk-Eagle is its distinctive bright yellow eyes, matched with the permanent “frown” emotion that most birds of prey exhibit. These birds also have completely white thighs. 

Male vs Female

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to tell the difference between a male and female African Hawk-Eagle when it comes to appearance. Both sexes look very similar, but some studies in 2010 have suggested that female African Hawk-Eagles have heavier markings on their feathers than males.

The female is also generally larger than the male. 

Are They Aggressive?

Little is known about the behavior and aggressiveness of the African Hawk-Eagle. For humans, these birds aren’t likely to be aggressive towards those who wander too close to their homes – though this isn’t recommended.

As with any wild animal, especially a bird of prey, African Hawk-Eagles are highly unpredictable, which is why it’s hard to say whether these birds are aggressive or not. 

In the event that you come across an African Hawk-Eagle with a nest of eggs or juveniles, then they are more likely to be aggressive and highly territorial. 

When it comes to other animals that can be considered potential prey, African Hawk-Eagles will be aggressive in the way they kill their food. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

As with all birds of prey in the Accipitridae family, African Hawk-Eagles have adapted to their surroundings and hunting techniques by developing sharp talons and an equally sharp, hooked beak.

This is to ensure that they can both catch and kill their prey, before tearing it up into bite-sized portions for themselves and their young. 

Breeding / Reproduction Behavior 

As with the majority of eagle species, African Hawk-Eagles are monogamous and will mate for life. The courting ritual is an interesting one, wherein the male and female will fly around each other above the nest, making their distinctive calls.

The male will then dive towards the female, who will then show the male her claws. Next, the male must provide the female with gifts (usually prey), before the mating ritual begins. 

The nest itself is built by both the male and female birds on top of a tall structure, which is usually the canopy of trees or man-made structures like pylons. These nests are built to last, with some lasting for up to 60 years.

Between April and August, the eggs are laid in clutches of one to two, with an incubation period of around 43 days. This incubation period is a team effort between the parents. 

Their Calls / Sounds

The call of an African Hawk-Eagle is very distinctive, partly because these birds are fairly quiet by nature. The call is a high-pitched, shrill ‘kluu-kluu-kluu’ sound. They usually produce this call when communicating with their partners and during the courting ritual. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

African Hawk-Eagles are carnivorous birds that primarily use their sharp talons to catch their prey. In a lot of cases, two birds will hunt at the same time with one bird looking for the prey and the other catching it.

Their main prey of choice is small birds like guineafowl and spurfowl. They will also hunt for small mammals and reptiles. 

As the majority of their prey live in dense habitats, it helps that African Hawk-Eagles have adapted their eyesight to be able to see their prey from 1 km away in the air. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

African Hawk-Eagle

As the name suggests, these birds live in tropical Sub-Saharan Africa, including Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, Angola, and more.

They don’t live in dense forests, instead they prefer wooded countrysides and sparse desert-like areas. Some have been known to nest on cliff faces. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

African Hawk-Eagles build their nests on tall structures like the canopies of trees, cliff faces, or pylons. These nests are made of twigs, branches, and green leaves, and size up to around 3 feet in diameter.

The birds will predominantly nest during the 43-day incubation period, where the male and female will share the role. 

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

The lifespan of an African Hawk-Eagle is largely unknown due to lack of research. However, we can assume that the average lifespan of these birds is between 55-60 years.

This information can be gathered by their nesting habits (wherein some nests are documented to be 60 years old), and their conservation status. As they are of the least concern, there is little research that indicates how long they live for. 

What Predators Do They Have?

As with most eagles, African Hawk-Eagles don’t have many predators. These birds nest in very tall structures, which is almost impossible to reach for any bird, mammal, or human.

Even if a bird, mammal, or human were to reach one of their nests, it’s highly unlikely that the eagle won’t notice.

These are territorial birds, after all, so they will attack virtually anything that tries to get to their nest. Their hooked beaks and sharp talons are enough to scare any potential predator away. 

In the event that a snake climbs up the tree unnoticed, the unhatched (or hatched) nestlings can be prey to the snake. 

The only real predator of the African Hawk-Eagle is deforestation and habitat destruction, which threatens their nests in the trees. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

African Hawk-Eagles have a mixture between dense and long feathers. They don’t need an overly fluffy feather coating due to the warm climate they live in. As juveniles, the feathers are predominantly brown or brownish-red, which then turn black as they age.

The white underparts remain white, especially the pure white thighs. 

When in flight, the underside of this eagle is distinctive for its white chest with black specks, and the white wings with the black trailing edge. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

Like the majority of eagle species, African Hawk-Eagles are carnivorous and hungry animals. Because they eat a lot, they will poop a lot.

The poop of an African Hawk-Eagle isn’t like regular poop – these birds of prey have a cloaca (an orifice that caters for the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary systems), which means that when they poop, they’re technically peeing as well.

This means that the poop will often have a liquid-like consistency. 

Do They Migrate?

African Hawk-Eagles are non-migratory birds of prey. This is mostly because these eagles are quite family-orientated, which means that when they find their “soulmate” who they will stick with for life, they aren’t likely to move to an entirely new area.

Juveniles are the same – when they are able to fly and fend for themselves, they will most likely stay local to the area they were born in. 

Research has suggested that the only reason why an African Hawk-Eagle was to migrate to a different country (or side of a country) is likely because of lack of food resources and water. Due to the climate they live in, dry spells are fairly common. 

Conservation Status

The conservation status of an African Hawk-Eagle is of least concern. It is unclear why there are declining figures in the population of these birds, but they aren’t poached by humans.

These figures are beginning to stabilize due to the protection of national parks, as deforestation in unprotected areas can contribute to the declining figures. 

Fun Facts

Not quite a fun fact, but studies show that the first-born chick will often crush the second-born chick to get more food from their parents, which usually results in the second-born chick’s death. 

Prey doesn’t stand a chance against an African Hawk-Eagle, as these birds can fly up to speeds of 150 mph!

These birds can be hard to train and tame, making them unsuitable pets.

African Hawk-Eagles are so territorial that if a fellow African Hawk-Eagle was to fly too close to their nest, a fight would ensue. 

These birds are often mistaken for the Ayres Hawk-Eagle, but the key difference is the distinctive black markings of the African Hawk-Eagle.