The strong, silent type

Booted eagle

It was only in the 1980s that booted eagle populations were discovered in South Africa and the West Coast – possibly overlooked because of their discreet nesting sites.

With their distinctive booted legs, the medium-sized Hieraaetus pennatus, also classified as Aquila pennata, is 40 cm long, with a wingspan of up to 132 cm. As polymorphs, some are light grey with a darker head and flight feathers. Others have mid-brown plumage with dark grey flight feathers.

These monogamous eagles are known to be silent – unlike their rowdy cousins. But once in a blue moon you might hear a ‘kli-kli-kli’.

Evidence suggests that the West Coast crowds arrive early August, lay eggs in September and say adieu in March. Their preferred habitat is hilly and open landscapes – particularly fynbos shrub. However, they breed strictly on rocky cliffs.

What makes them conspicuous is that they typically fly at relatively low heights. Hunting (mainly birds, lizards and rodents) is done on the wing with feet extended and folded wings in a dramatic stoop. They also perform balletic courtship rituals in sophisticated flight demonstrations. An air show worth attending!

Lazy to the bone when it comes to nest-building, booted eagles prefer squatting in disused black kite or grey heron nests. Here, the female lays 1–2 eggs, incubates them for 45 days while being fed by hubby and continues guarding the nest for another 70–75 days when the chick fledges.