Birds of prey in the KZN Midlands

The picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, where Granny Mouse country House and Spa is situated, is a much sought after holiday destination by locals and visitors to our shores.

It is blessed with spectacular countryside scenery and is a laid back place to visit with many unique attractions.

If you are like us here at Granny Mouse, we just love our local birds of prey and, often when looking up at the skies, are blessed to see these truly magnificent birds in flight.

So while you chilling in the afternoons enjoying some down time by the pool here are some truly magnificent birds to look out for:

The yellow-billed kite (Milvus aegyptius) is one of the most common birds of prey on the African continent, and arguably the most visible. The yellow-billed kite has an all yellow beak, whereas the black kite has a black tip to its beak.

It is a medium-sized bird of prey, reaching an average length of 55cm and a wingspan between 160-180cm. The urban areas suit this bird well, as it is incredibly opportunistic in its behaviour. Diet is varied, and it will feed on any prey small enough to be caught and eaten, such as small mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects. Carrion is regularly eaten, as well as human leftovers and scraps. It is not uncommon for yellow-billed kites to swoop down and steal food from under the nose of humans, sometimes even directly from their hands.

Jackal Buzzard – A large, heavy buzzard with striking black, chestnut, and white patterning that is especially evident in flight. Occupies a wide range of open habitats, where it sits on poles, fences, and rocks, hunting for small and large vertebrates. The harsh scolding “kaaaa-haa-haa” call is distinctive and similar to that of a jackal. A rare pale-chested morph can resemble Augur Buzzard, but Jackal Buzzard is always differentiated by the dark (not pale) forward part of the underwing. The brown-and-rufous juvenile Jackal Buzzard is similar to other buzzards, but it is larger, with broad wings and a hefty head.

Lanner falcons are the most common resident falcons found in southern Africa and typically show a red head in adulthood. They nest on cliff faces and the male will bring food and bow to the female in courtship. There is a marked size difference between the sexes. In the raptor world females are larger than males – this is called reverse sexual dimorphism. Lanner Falcons are listed as a ‘threatened’ species in the RED DATA BOOK.

Fish eagles are a symbol of Africa. These beautiful raptors soar proudly across blue skies. Yodelling in high-pitched yelps they reflect a continent’s love for song. There are around 300,000 fish eagles in Africa making them one of the most numerous predatory birds in Africa. Fish eagles are one of the oldest of all living birds. They belong to the Haliaeetus genus of sea eagles, one of the most ancient bird genera. These birds have been here since long before man. In fact, they’ve been here since before primates!. They are kleptoparasites which means they actively steal food from other birds. Goliath herons and saddle-billed storks are their common victims, but fish eagles can scavenge like the best of them and will take from almost any other bird.

You could call them the pirates of Africa’s rivers and lakes! African fish eagles aren’t just scavengers. Nor do they feed purely on fish. They also feed on birds and mammals and are incredibly efficient hunters, picking on ducks, waterfowl, and various birds.

Fish eagles are loyal birds. They mate for life, with the actual mating taking place during the dry season when the waters are lowest. Nests are built upon and some reach over two metres across. Females are larger than males. This sexual dimorphism is common for birds of prey, particularly raptors. Females grow to have wingspans of 2.4 metres (almost 8 feet). Males are a little narrower at 2 metres across (6.6 feet).

African harrier hawk is found only in Africa, and specializes in flying very slowly, nearly stalling, while scanning the ground for its small prey. Unique double-jointed knees allow it to grab victims from deep inside holes, cracks and crevices. Its broad wings, long tail and long legs present a large, formidable figure despite its small size. The African harrier hawk is like many other raptors, except for its un-feathered face, which blushes to a deep red when startled or during mating displays. The African harrier hawk frequents a variety of landscapes throughout its range in central and southern Africa, including forest, woodland and savannah. It is most often found at the top of tall trees fringing the larger rivers or in hilly country where there are deep ravines and steep hillsides. The African harrier hawk is also known as the gymnogene, which means bare cheeks.

The Spotted Eagle-Owl is the most common owl and one of the largest in southern Africa. This nocturnal bird of prey lives and breeds in a variety of habitats, including alongside people in their cities and towns. A large grey owl, 43–50cm tall, barred in front and blotched on the head, back and wings. Their wingspan is about 1m. The distinguishing features of the Spotted Eagle-Owl are the prominent tufts of feathers on either side of its head, which it erects into ‘ears’ or ‘horns’, and its bright yellow eyes. They roost during the day, either in trees or among rocks. At sunset they fly out to a perch to hunt.

For those of you who may not spot these awesome birds in the sky, you can also take a short drive to The African Bird of Prey Sanctuary. Rare or endangered species on view: Grass Owl, Pels Fishing Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Cape Griffon, White–backed Vulture. Coming on view soon: The big five eagle species, White-headed and Palmnut vultures, Pearl-spotted, Scops and White-faced Scops Owls and Pygmy Falcons. The sanctuary comprises of Eagle Valley, Hoot Hollow, Honeycomb habitats and a Vulture Hide. More so, it is privately run and all ticket costs go towards running expenses. Located inside the sanctuary, there is also a café, art gallery and curio shop which sell local African trinkets and artworks.  All the raptors to be viewed at the sanctuary are either captive bred or non-releasable rehabilitation birds, whose injuries are permanent and therefore need a permanent home. Visitors can see the aerial predators in action during daily interactive flying displays and witness the voracious antics of the vultures at feeding times.

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