Crowned eagles are not the largest eagles in Africa—martial eagles claim that title—but they are the most powerful. Their legs are thick, and they have a very long talon on each back toe that helps them kill animals more than four times their size. Crowned eagles live in the tall woodland forests and rain forests of Africa. Built for flying among trees, the crowned eagle’s wings are short and broad, and its long tail helps guide the bird like a rudder guides a boat. These features allow the eagle to fly easily through the branches.
Adult crowned eagles have a dark brown head with long crest feathers tipped in white, a cream or reddish breast with black bars, and wings that are black on the top and reddish underneath. Like many raptors, the female is larger than the male.
As the most powerful eagle in Africa, the crowned eagle is able to kill animals weighing up to 44 pounds (20 kilograms). The eagle’s long hind talon helps break the prey’s spine A favorite method of hunting is to sit in a tree overlooking a waterhole or clearing and then simply drop down onto the prey. When hunting monkeys, a crowned eagle flies over the forest canopy until a troop of monkeys can be heard. The eagle lands on a branch and tries to get as close as possible to the monkeys without being seen before attacking. A crowned eagle pair may hunt together: the male flies high and calls out to get the attention of monkeys in the trees below; the female then skims the treetops and grabs a confused monkey. They prefer to carry their kill into a tree to eat in safety, but they can’t carry anything heavier than themselves. If the kill is too heavy, it will be torn apart on the ground and the pieces stored and eaten over several days or brought back in pieces to the nest. Crowned eagles also eat small antelope, mongooses, rats, monitor lizards, and snakes.
Like many eagles, the crowned eagle male performs a beautiful courtship flight to impress a female. He flies very high into the air and makes a series of swooping dives and climbs, like a roller coaster. At the top of each loop, he flaps his wings quickly several times, throws his head back, and calls loudly for up to 30 seconds. If the female joins him, they may lock talons and cartwheel down toward the ground, only letting go at the last second.
The pair uses the same nest for many years until a new pair inherits it. The nest is made of sticks and lined with fresh, green branches. The eagles add new material to the nest each year, and over time the nest can grow up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) across and 10 feet (3 meters) deep. It typically rests in a 40- to 150-foot-tall (12 to 46 meters) tree.
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