Long Crested Eagle: The Ultimate Guide

The long-crested eagle is an African bird of prey that belongs to the Accipitridae (eagle) family.

The species was until recently thought to be monotypic, which means that there are no subspecies of its biological genus, but some biologists have posited, the as yet unproven theory that the long-crested eagle is part of a clade that includes the spotted eagle, the greater spotted eagle and the lesser spotted eagle. 


Easily spotted in their natural habitat due to their distinctive appearance, the long-crested eagle has a dark plumage, which is usually dark brown or black in color.

The secondary feathers are black and sometimes tipped with dark gray, while their primary feathers and underwing feathers are white, which gives them an unmistakable appearance while in flight, as it appears in stark contrast with their black tails that are often tipped by grayish feathers.  

The long-crested eagle gets its name from the long, dark feathers that adorn its crown that can be held aloft to form a crest.

They are usually between twenty-one and twenty-three inches (seventy-five to eighty-five centimeters) in length when fully grown, and until they reach adulthood, juvenile birds are smaller and paler in color than mature birds are. 

Male vs. Female – How To Tell Them Apart

The female of the species is usually heavier than the male is, and can weigh anything up to five hundred grams more. 

Males tend to have white feet, while the female birds have yellow and while the female’s eyes have a tendency to be brown, the male long-crested eagles’ eyes are always yellow. 

Are They Aggressive? 

The species isn’t regarded as being particularly aggressive unless the bird feels as though its territory is being threatened, or it is competing and fighting for a nesting area.

In the latter instance, the long-crested eagle can sometimes come into conflict with the black sparrowhawk as both species tend to favor similar nesting and breeding areas. 

Barring these instances, the only other occasions in which the long-crested eagle will display any sign of aggression is when it feels threatened by another bird or animal, and under those circumstances, it can and will fight. 

What Adaptations Do They Have? 

Like all members of the family Accipitridae, the long-crested eagle has a hooked beak and sharp talons which it uses to catch and eat its prey.

Unlike most of the other species in its collective genus, the long-crested eagle is what is commonly known as a “sit and wait” hunter, and will perch in a tree until it spots its prey and will then swoop down to catch it in a long, gliding flight before returning to its perch. 

Breeding And Reproductive Behavior? 

A territorial bird, during courtship the male will perform a series of steep dives, interspersed with level flight during which he will rock his wings and frequently cry out in order to attract a mate.  

The long-crested eagle can breed throughout the year, with the female laying either one or two eggs at a time, which can be laid up to two weeks apart, that she will then incubate for forty-two days while the male bird feeds her. 

After their young are born, the male assumes the responsibility for feeding the young, and fifty-three days after the fledglings hatch, they become juvenile birds and are dependent on their parents for another three months, before they are finally ready to leave the nest behind. 

What Does Their Call Sound Like? What Noises Do They Make? 

Long-crested eagles are incredibly vocal birds and while they can and do call out to each other in typical bird song, they also screech in short staccato bursts that resemble and are similar to the chirping and excited calls that chimpanzees make. 

Noted for their repeated calling during courtship, the long-crested eagle is only usually quiet for long periods while hunting, and will sometimes call out when it has successfully caught its prey. 

What Do They Eat? 

The majority of the long-crested eagle’s diet is made up of rodents (mainly greater cane rats, African vlei rats, swamp rats, and grass mice) as they are easier for the bird to catch given its nature as a sit and wait hunter.

The eagle’s excellent eyesight allows it to spot movement and the rodents causing it, which it then swoops down on and catches in its incredibly sharp and long talons.

While it tends to favor easy prey, the long-crested eagle has also been known to feed on the young of other birds, lizards, frogs, and fishes, and in some rare cases, fruit. 

The long-crested eagle, like all raptors, doesn’t have an exclusive diet and will usually eat any smaller animals that it can catch and kill. 

Where Do They Live?

The long-crested eagle is a territorial bird that tends to make its home in forests and wooded marshland close to streams and rivers and can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

It tends to be found between Senegal and Gambia and can be found as far East as Ethiopia, so if you want to spy the bird in its natural habitat, head to one of these three countries and hire a local guide who will be able to point you in the right direction. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits? 

Long crested eagle

Even though they are prone to using the abandoned nests of other birds if they can find them if they can’t long-crested eagles tend to make their own stick-built, and lined with leaves nests in the mid-canopy areas of a forest, as close to the main trunk of a tree as possible. 

Unusually for an eagle, nest building duties are shared equally among the male and female of the species, and as the bird is mostly sedentary when they make their nests (or reclaim those left behind by other birds), they tend to stay in them. 

How Long Do They Live? 

While one female of the species from the Cape Peninsula reached the ripe old age of twelve, the average lifespan for both male and female long-crested eagles is between four and five years. 

What Predators Do They Have?

The species doesn’t have any natural predators when it reaches adulthood, but the young if left unprotected in the nest by their parents can be targeted by other raptors and birds of prey. 

Monkeys and genets (a small, African tree-dwelling carnivore that resembles the common domestic feline) have also been known to prey on the nests of long-crested eagles and if given the chance, will steal and feast on their eggs. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The long-crested eagle has a distinctive dark crest of feathers on its crown, and while its secondary feathers tend to be either dark brown or black and can have gray tips, its primary and underwing feathers are usually white.

Juveniles tend to be lighter in color than adults, but all mature birds have black tail feathers. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like? 

Because long-crested eagles, like every member of their genus, tend to eat a lot, they also poop a lot. Their poop is mostly made up of an almost liquid “whitewash” with the odd bit of black more solid fecal matter in it.

And if you thought normal songbirds and parrots let go of a lot of poop at any given time, you’d probably faint if you saw how much a long-crested eagle poops. When we say they poop a lot, we mean that they really poop a lot. 

Do They Migrate?

The long-crested eagle tends to be sedentary, and is a territorial bird but can and does migrate according to the rainfall patterns of the areas in which it is found. But for the most part, the long-crested eagle will remain within the boundaries of its established territory. 

What Is Their Conservation Status?

Currently listed, due to the large area in which the species is found as least concern by BirdLife International, the long-crested eagle tends to be left alone by farmers who view the bird’s presence as being beneficial as they can and do control the rodent population in agricultural areas. 

They do however face a loss of habitat through human incursion and interference, and have been known to strike, and be killed by power lines and cars. But they are not under any threat of near extinction.  

Fun Facts 

Because, like all eagles, they don’t produce fecal sacs, long-crested eaglets wander over to the side of the nest to poop over the edge. 

Long-crested eagles are monogamous birds, and following the male’s intense courtship ritual, when they mate, they mate for life. And when the happy couple builds their nest, they share construction duty, which makes them the epitome of the modern couple.

Unlike a lot of other eagles, the long-crested variety is a “sit and wait” hunter, preferring to only expend the energy needed to catch their prey when they see them from their perched position. 

Even though they’re raptors, long-crested eagles have been known to subsist on a  diet of fruit, which would tend to suggest that the bird favors an easy life. 

Their presence is welcomed by farmers, as the long-crested eagle is seen as being a cheap and effective means of pest, and rodent control.