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Crowned Eagle : The Predator Next Door

The Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus) is one of the largest birds of prey in Africa. It’s probably the most powerful and almost certainly the one that regularly goes after the biggest prey. But is the crowned eagle, as is sometimes suggested, the only living bird to qualify for the description ‘man-eater’?

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Read on for some very fine photos, video and links relating to the extremely impressive crowned eagle …

Before we get into admiring the spectacular crowned eagle, I guess I should mention the Wikipedia page on man-eaters. That’s the place to start if you want the full gory breakdown on humans as prey, although bear in mind a lot of the information surrounding this sort of stuff is a bit anecdotal.

And! Before we get into the main business of these shownotes, a listener has very politely and helpfully pointed out that I make a right dog’s breakfast (or should that be eagle’s breakfast?) of the name of the ibis I talk about in the episode. Due to an apparent inability to read and/or listen properly, I hopelessly mispronounce the bird’s name, which should be the hadeda or hadada ibis. Don’t know exactly how I managed to mess that up, but there you are. Here’s a picture of it to make up for my mistake:

Here’s a distribution map for the crowned eagle:

It covers a lot of different terrain, but a decent chunk of that area is, as you’d expect, forest or rainforest.

Here’s a Crowned Eagle very helpfully showing you one of it’s defining features, as discussed in the episode. The very broad, comparatively short wings that make it a forest/jungle eagle:

By Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa – Crowned eagle (African crowned eagle, crowned hawk-eagle) Stephanoaetus coronatus, at Ndumo Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, CC BY 2.0

And here it is in flight. What a bird!


By Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa – Crowned eagle (African crowned eagle, crowned hawk-eagle) Stephanoaetus coronatus, at Ndumo Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, CC BY 2.0

And here’s something very rare. A video clip (very brief, but still …) that directly illustrates a huge chunk of what I’m talking about in an installment of The Wild Episode! If anyone doubted that this eagle is capable of making a living in urban/semi-urban areas, here’s a Crowned Eagle in someone’s back garden in Africa, eating a duiker it’s just killed there!

I love it when animals co-operate so fully with my shownote-making.

And here’s one other video clip. Not my favourite sort, as it feels a bit artificial, but it is rather good at showing not only the kind of animals the crowned eagle hunts but also the environment it likes to do it in, and its hunting technique:

The crowned eagle is, as it happens, one of the most intensively studied birds of prey in Africa, so there’s no shortage of information out there on its behaviour and ecology.

The crowned eagle Wikipedia page is, a bit unusually for the animals I talk about in this podcast, lengthy, detailed, full of information and loaded with useful references for further reading. So worth a look.

I’d strongly recommend the awesome webpage Crowned eagle in the big city, which is by Shane McPherson, who’s done a remarkable amount of work on the crowned eagles of Durban. You can access his doctoral thesis on the subject over here: Urban ecology of the crowned eagle (stephanoaetus coronatus) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. And I have to tell you, although I don’t make a habit of reading doctoral theses, it’s fascinating stuff.

As just one example of the many studies of crowned eagle diet you can find if you do some digging, try this one (PDF available with a couple of extra clicks):

Mitani et al., Predatory behavior of crowned hawk-eagles (Stephanoaetus coronatus) in Kibale National Park, Uganda, Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2001) 49:187–195. Spoiler: they really like eating monkeys.

And an interesting side-note – the question of what talon shape has to do with prey choice in raptors is covered in:

Fowler DW, Freedman EA, Scannella JB (2009) Predatory Functional Morphology in Raptors: Interdigital Variation in Talon Size Is Related to Prey Restraint and Immobilisation Technique. PLoS ONE 4(11): e7999.

And – again as just one example of a number of info sources out there – here’s a paper on the Taung Australopithecus skull:

Berger & McGraw, 2007, Further evidence for eagle predation of, and feeding damage on, the Taung child, S. Afr. j. sci. vol.103 n.11-12

Music

Opening & Closing Themes: Running Waters and Acoustic Meditation by Audionautix (Jason Shaw), from audionautix.com. CC BY 3.0.

Modified versions of the following pieces:

Landmine by Bankrupt Bakery. CC BY 4.0

Dreams Become Real and Deliberate Thought by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). CC BY 3.0.

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