Long-crested Eagle

Lophaetus occipitalis
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)
A sharp-eyed Long-crested Eagle
Connor Cullinan

Ferncliffe is lucky to be regularly visited by these distinctive eagles. At first glance they appear all brown, albeit with a rakish crest, but when in flight the males unveil a rather lovely pair of white leggings and both sexes have white wing patches and a black-and-white striped tail. They are forest and timber specialists, spending much time perched along drainage lines scanning the ground, and what they relish is vlei rats. As W.R. Tarboton explains in The Complete Book of Southern African Birds, this reliance on a particular prey species makes them somewhat vulnerable to feast and famine situations. In years of plenty they may raise two young; when there’s not enough food they may not breed at all.

We often see Long-crested Eagles swooping down the firebreak and while we are yet to find a nest, hope they are breeding in the area. Their calls are a wild kee-ee, kee-ay, made as the eagle soars high above the forest.