Black Eagle: Habitat and Characteristics

With black eagles, the older brother often kills the younger one in more than 96% of the nests with two eggs. Want to know more about it?
Black Eagle: Habitat and Characteristics
Cesar Paul Gonzalez Gonzalez

Written and verified by the biologist Cesar Paul Gonzalez Gonzalez.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

The black eagle is a species known for its black plumage with white spots, which look pretty when it’s flying. It’s part of the group of falconiformes, so not only does its flight shine, but it’s also an excellent hunter. In addition, it’s a specialist bird, because it usually feeds on only one type of animal.

In this article, we’ll talk about Aquila verreauxii, a majestic bird of prey that in turn, forms part of the true eagles. Keep reading to discover everything this eagle has to tell us.

The habitat of the black eagle

This raptor is a diurnal animal that inhabits rocky areas such as cliffs and mountains. For this reason, it lives in places with less than 750 millimeters of rainfall per year, where the little vegetation allows it to easily hunt its prey.

The distribution of this species is quite wide, ranging from the Arabian peninsula to Southeast Africa. Most of its population is concentrated in the mountains of Ethiopia, and the highlands of Chad, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Physical characteristics

Due to its shape, it has been dubbed as the “finest” eagle of the genus Aquila, with lengths of up to 96 centimeters (over 3 feet). On the other hand, it can weigh more than 4 kilos (around 9 pounds) and measure 2.8 meters (9.4 feet) from wing to wing.

These birds are considered part of the group of true eagles, along with species such as the golden eagle, due to their feathered tarsi. In addition, they have their characteristic beaks and claws, which are quite sharp and serve to tear their food. Both structures follow the same color pattern, with yellow tones in most areas and black at the ends.

In adults, the plumage colors are entirely black, with the exception of some white areas on its tail and back. For their part, the young have a mixture of brown and white feathers in different degrees and patterns, which allows them to be differentiated. In fact, thanks to this, we know that the color “black” of the adult is actually a mixture of very dark brown tones.

A black eagle hunting.

How does the black eagle feed?

This species can be very selective in its diet, as it feeds on hyraxes – mainly on rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis). This may be because it is the most abundant prey in the area, as research conducted by the University of Cape Town has found that the eagle can change its diet without repercussions.

In the end, this raptor is an opportunistic hunter, so she will select the prey that is available and more energy will report to her. Although its favorite food is rock hyraxes, it can also hunt some of the following living things:

  • Small mammals: such as hares, primates or genets.
  • Birds: the guinea fowl, guinea pigeon, or cape vultures.
  • Reptiles (in a few cases): these include varanids (from the lizard family), snorting vipers, or cape cobras.

Hunting methods

The way an opportunistic animal works is by being alert at all times, so that it can attack if necessary. To do this, the black eagles make sudden vertical descents, with which they ambush their victims, killing them on the spot. Although most of these prey are small enough to carry, they sometimes begin to tear them apart to carry pieces to their nests.

Reproduction of the black eagle

This is a monogamous and sedentary species, so it spends most of its life in one place, unless there’s a real need to leave the nest. In addition, their territories are a bit small, so you can see several pairs in the vicinity.


To get a mate, these birds perform a courtship ritual, in which they carry out complex flight patterns. In order to do this, the males are the ones who try to attract the attention of the female, using their vocalizations and displaying their plumage.

Once the pair is established, it selects its territory and begins to make its nest, using the highest areas it can find. For this reason, it usually lives near cliffs, as they’re inaccessible places for predators. In addition, there’s no specific season for the mother to lay her eggs, as it changes depending on the area the raptor lives in.

Laying and incubation

In general, this raptor lays between one and two eggs, which hatch about 45 days later. In order to do this, both parents take part in the incubation, the female being the one who spends the most time with them. At this point, the male also provides food for the female, until the time of hatching.

This species has rather macabre behavior, in which the older brother kills the younger, pecking him over and over again. Although it sounds dramatic, this happens due to a lack of food. By killing it, you ensure the survival of at least one of them. In fact, for this very reason, you rarely have more than one egg in the nest.

Parental care

The parents will feed the chick until it can fend for itself, reducing the amount of food they give it at each stage. Between 90 and 99 days after being born, the young get all their plumage and begin to leave their nest. From this moment on, they’ll learn all the flying and hunting techniques so that in six months they can fend for themselves.

State of conservation

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, this eagle is classified as a species of least concern. However, local governments such as Africa consider it a vulnerable species, because its population has been reduced in some areas of distribution.

What are the threats of the black eagle?

This eagle is considered to be a resistant species, because its nesting areas aren’t greatly affected by man. This is because they’re areas that are difficult to access, and untouched by man as yet. On the other hand, man’s interventions can affect their prey, which is forcing them to move to other places, causing conflicts for their population.

As is usual when talking about conservation, its main threat is the changes caused by man, which can eradicate its prey, and, consequently, this species. Although this has already been taken into account in several investigations, it’s difficult to predict the future of this bird.

It’s hard to believe that a majestic bird is at risk despite being so resilient. However, this is mankind’s unfortunate ability: destroy and eradicate animals no matter how much resistance they offer. It may sound fateful, but it’s reality. Although it may seem otherwise, the destruction of habitats is a catastrophic event for nature. Unfortunately, this is something that can’t easily be perceived.

It’s true that human beings need resources to survive, but what we must aspire to is a balance that allows coexistence. In this way, the future of this eagle and of all other species, including us, will be protected.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • BirdLife International. 2016. Aquila verreauxiiThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22696067A95221980.
  • Padayachee, K., Malan, G., LÜBCKER, N., Woodborne, S., & Hall, G. (2021). Differences in the dietary habits of Verreaux’s Eagles Aquila verreauxii between peri-urban and rural populations. Bird Conservation International31(1), 96-110.
  • SIMMONS, R. (1988). Offspring quality and the evolution of cainism. Ibis130(3), 339-357.
  • Armstrong, A., & Avery, G. (2014). Taphonomy of Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) prey accumulations from the Cape Floral Region, South Africa: implications for archaeological interpretations. Journal of archaeological science52, 163-183.
  • Ralston-Paton, S. (2017). Verreauxs’ Eagle and Wind Farms: Guidelines for impact assessment, monitoring, and mitigation. BirdLife South Africa occasional report series, BirdLife South Africa, Hoboken, NJ, USA.
  • Thompson, L. J., Clemence, L., Clemence, B., & Goosen, D. (2018). Nestling White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) eaten by a Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) at a nest occupied for a record 21 years. Vulture News74, 24-30.
  • Murgatroyd, S. M. (2016). Ecology of the Verreaux’s eagle Aquila verreauxii in natural and agriculturally transformed habitats in South Africa.
  • Padayachee, K., Malan, G., LÜBCKER, N., Woodborne, S., & Hall, G. (2021). Differences in the dietary habits of Verreaux’s Eagles Aquila verreauxii between peri-urban and rural populations. Bird Conservation International31(1), 96-110.
  • Davies, R. A. (2007). Black eagle Aquila verreauxii predation on rock hyrax Procavia capensis and other prey in the Karoo (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pretoria).
  • Murgatroyd, M., Avery, G., Underhill, L. G., & Amar, A. (2016). Adaptability of a specialist predator: the effects of land use on diet diversification and breeding performance of Verreaux’s eagles. Journal of Avian Biology47(6), 834-845.
  • Baker, S. E. (2013). Accumulation behaviours and taphonomic signatures for extant Verreaux’s Eagle nests, Aquila verreauxii, in southern Africa (Doctoral dissertation).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.