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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > April-June 2018 (82) > Where eagles dare

Where eagles dare

As awe-inspiring in reality as in myth, eagles dominate African skies. Mike Unwin focuses on the remarkable adaptations of the continent’s species and suggests the best places to see them for yourself
IN ALL ITS GLORY: The African fish eagle, the national symbol of five nations, soars above the continent’s waterways, waiting to swoop for prey

Eagles are undeniably compelling. As predators, they occupy a similar ecological role to that of cats and other earthbound mammals, using supreme hunting prowess and a formidable array of weaponry to capture an enormous variety of prey. Such powers have long imbued them with emblematic status in human culture, from the golden eagle standard of imperial Rome to the bald eagle seal of the USA.

The African fish eagle alone is the national symbol of five nations. Africa is home to 25 of some 69 eagle species now recognised worldwide. All belong to the Accipitridae family of diurnal raptors, alongside the likes of buzzards, kites and vultures. They range from the martial eagle, which may top 6kg and can kill a small antelope, to the pigeon-sized but no less rapacious booted eagle, which captures birds in flight.

Some eagles are specialists: snake eagles, for example, have thickly scaled legs as protection against the bites of their serpent prey, while the African fish eagle has sharpened scales on its feet to help grip its slippery catch.

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