Ayre's Hawk-eagle

Hieraaetus ayresii
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
44–57 cm (17-22.4 in)
Wingspan:
106–137 cm (41.7-54 in)
Weight:
615–1150 g (21.6-405.oz)
Ayre's Hawk-eagle

Munir Virani

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Did You Know?

  • Though normally considered a shy species, some individuals living in or near towns have become very tame.
  • Though the Ayres's Hawk-eagle usually builds its own nest, it sometimes chooses to lay its eggs in and old nest, built by another bird, usually another large raptor species.

Other Eagles

How The Peregrine Fund is Helping

In Kenya, our scientists are working hard to learn about and protect all raptors and their habitats. Through environmental education efforts, we are also working to put a stop to the common practice of poisoning carcasses to kill large predators, which also kills a host of wildlife including vultures, eagles, and other scavenging birds. These efforts will certainly benefit all raptors of the region, including the Ayres's Hawk-eagle.

Where They Live

This beautiful eagle is found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, both in the western and eastern regions of the continent. It might be our first inclination to imagine a relatively small eagle like this living within dense rainforest, perched high up in the canopy. In reality, the Ayres's Hawk-eagle seems to do a good job of avoiding primary rainforest altogether. It also tends to avoid areas that are dry and devoid of trees. Instead,  you are more likely to find this species soaring, perching, or hunting throughout the day in wooded savannas, forest patches, and some riparian areas.

It may also come as a surprise to learn that some Ayres's Hawk-eagles have also adapted to soaring and hunting above urban aras and exotic tree plantations. It is usually found below 3,000 meters elevation. 

What They Do

Ayres's Hawk-eagles are small birds of prey, often described as "stocky." Like with most birds of prey, the females are larger than the males. In the case of these eagles, females can sometimes be as much as 16% or more bigger than their male counterparts. Though not always visible, these eagles have a small crest at the top of their heads that they can raise and lower at will. 

This species is a resident species throughout much of its range. This means it remains within a general area all year round. However, some populations are partial migrants. They won't travel very far compared to long-distance migrants,  but, during the rainy season, they will move from denser woodlands into tree-dotted savannas. This is likely due to the fact that heavy rains mean more growth on trees. As we already learned, these eagles don't hang out in areas with dense foliage, so the move to savannas with fewer trees makes sense!

Why They Need our Help

The Ayres's Hawk-eagle is widespread throughout its preferred habitats in sub-Saharan Africa Perhaps this why it is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. However, this species does suffer many threats throughout its range including habitat loss, and human persecution - mainly because this eagle feeds on pigeons and other domestic birds. Another threat to this species is the fact that biologists still don't know very much about it. It is hard to protect a species when we don't know what its needs are.  

What They Eat

This eagle uses its sharp talons and strong feet to catch numerous different prey items. It may be surprising to learn that its main food source is other birds. It catches small to medium-sized birds, and seems to have a particular taste for pigeons and doves. 

When not catching other birds, it will turn its attention to many of the small to medium-sized mammals lurking about. It will feed on tree-dwelling creatures, such as squirrels and other rodents. It will feed on bats.  

While most of its prey is captured in flight, this bird has a number of different hunting techniques up its sleeve. It might soar high in search of food. When it spots something, it will go into a fast stoop (dive) to catch it. It might also chase flying prey in tail pursuits - an aerial race! Or, it might crash through the canopy foliage taking its prey by surprise. 

Nests, Eggs, and Young

Ayres's Hawk-eagles build nests out of nearby sticks and twigs. They generally construct their nest high in the fork of a tall tree. Once the nest is built, they will line it with sprigs of soft, green leaves. Their nests can measure between 60 to 129 cm across! 

Once the nest is ready, the female will lay 1-2 eggs. The eggs have been described as being dull white, spotted with slate gray and different shades of brown. At least one adult will need to care for the eggs for more than a month, sitting on them to keep them warm and occasionally turning them to help the embryos develop correctly. The young eaglet will hatch 43–45 days later. This nestling will be covered in fluffy, white down, and will have a tell-tale gray spot in front of its eye. The nestling will grow quickly and will be old enough to fly from the nest for the first time when it is between 73–75 days.

Ayres's Hawk-eagle and the World Center for Birds of Prey

The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about raptors of all kinds. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets and quizzes to costumes and a touch table are available for the curious mind. We also have several different birds of prey on display year-round, including several eagle species! Though we don't have any resident Ayres's Hawk-eagles at the World Center for Birds of Prey, if you visit you will be rewarded with an opportunity to meet Fancy, our resident Ornate Hawk-eagle, and Grayson a Harpy Eagle. At the visitor center, you will see these amazing birds of prey, and more,  up close in our outdoor aviary. Our knowledgeable staff is on hand to answer any questions you may have. 

References:

BirdLife International. 2017. Hieraaetus ayresii (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22696103A111817606. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-1.RLTS.T22696103A111817606.en. Downloaded on 16 August 2021.

Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Ayres's Hawk-eagle Aquila ayresii. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 15 Aug. 2021

Kemp, A. C., P. F. D. Boesman, and J. S. Marks (2020). Ayres's Hawk-Eagle (Hieraaetus ayresii), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.ayheag1.01