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Everything You Wanted to Know About the Madagascar Fish Eagle

I have always had an interest in nature and birds of prey in particular. Learn about these majestic creatures that grace our skies.

Every now and then, you come across a species that is so rare and confined to such a small range that you wonder how on earth it will survive. This is the case with the Madagascar fish eagle. This beautiful bird of prey is found in just a small area on the west coast of the African island of Madagascar. While the Madagascar fish eagle is the largest bird of prey in Madagascar, it is also one of the rarest raptors not just on this Island but in the entire world.

General Description

The Madagascar fish eagle is a fairly large bird and is classified as a medium-sized sea eagle. They average from 24 to 32 inches in length and have a wingspan of approximately 6 feet. As with other birds of prey, the male is smaller than the female and averages about five pounds. The larger female averages about seven pounds but can weigh up to eight pounds in some cases.

Their body and wings are dark reddish-brown, and they have a lighter, pale-brown color on the tops of their heads. Their throats and faces are closer to a dirty white and their short tails are white as well. They have grey legs with large talons that they use to hunt for fish. Juveniles are lighter in color with pale underbodies and dark tails. They reach their full adult plumage at around five years of age. Their closest relative is the African fish eagle, which is similar in size and color except for its very white head and chin.


A Pair of Madagascar Fish Eagles

A Pair of Madagascar Fish Eagles

Habitat and Range

The Madagascar fish eagle resides only on the island of Madagascar, which is off of the southeastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world and comprises about 227 thousand square miles. The Madagascar fish eagle resides predominantly on the west coast of the island. The population is divided into three sub-groups with one occupying the Antsalova region of west-central Madagascar, another residing along the Tsiribihuna River, and the other located along the northwest coast.

Madagascar Fish Eagle Range

Madagascar Fish Eagle Range

Madagascar Fish Eagle Range

For the most part, this eagle prefers dry, deciduous, wooded areas with large trees that are near bodies of water containing an ample population of fish. They can be found in and around the marine islands and mangroves of the western coastal area and around the rivers and lakes in the Antsalova area. As the species is confined to this one area of Madagascar, they generally are not migratory although juveniles will travel when seeking out a territory.

Diet

As their name implies, the diet of the Madagascar fish eagle consists predominantly of fish. They like to perch in the large trees that border the lakes, rivers, and shoreline. They are very patient hunters and will sit for hours waiting to spot potential prey.

Their hunting style is to skim the water and snare their victims while in flight as opposed to the dive-and-catch method. While other sea eagle species rely on non-aquatic prey to supplement their diet, the Madagascar fish eagle seems to rely almost exclusively on fish along with the occasional crab or turtle.

Breeding

The breeding season for the Madagascar fish eagle generally begins in May, and the courtship is quickly followed by the construction of a nest. Nests are constructed of sticks and can be quite large and measure up to five feet across. They are usually located on rocky cliffs or more often near the tops of large trees.

Eggs are usually laid from late May through mid July, and the clutch size is one to two eggs. The incubation period lasts for 37 to 43 days with an average incubation period of 40 days. Both parents participate in incubating the eggs with the female doing the bulk of the work while the male brings food to the nest. At times, the species exhibits cooperative breeding and polyandry, where a female mates with more than one male. The “extra” males will also on occasion help in the incubation process. This characteristic is unusual among eagles, as most choose a single partner and mate for life.

A Madagascar Fish Eagle

A Madagascar Fish Eagle

As is the case with other raptor species, usually only one chick will survive due to siblicide. This is where one sibling, usually the older and stronger eaglet, kills its younger and weaker sibling. It’s a cruel fate of nature, but it is designed to ensure that the stronger chick survives and prospers.

The eaglets will remain in and around the nest for a period of up to 89 days. Typically, after about 70 days, they will start to venture from the nest to nearby branches. The young eagles will fledge after about 4 months and it will take another 14 to 28 weeks after fledgling takes place for the young eagles to start to disperse. They will remain in the parent’s territory until the next breeding season starts.

IUCN Conservation Status

The current best estimate of the population of Madagascar fish eagles puts the number at only about 222 individuals. This includes about 100 breeding pairs that have been identified and juveniles. With such low numbers and a decreasing habitat due to human intervention, the outlook for this majestic bird is questionable at best. The Madagascar fish eagle is currently listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. The next step on the IUCN scale is extinction in the wild.

With such a small population remaining in the wild, the risks are many for this raptor. In addition to habitat destruction and human persecution, there is now the problem of inbreeding, which can have serious implications for a species.

If there is a glimmer of hope for the Madagascar fish eagle, it is that its small population seems to be stable at the moment. There are conservation programs currently ongoing in Madagascar that aim to increase the number of breeding pairs to at least 250. A program to rescue chicks from siblicide and raise them in captivity has increased the number of surviving chicks.

The world-renowned Peregrine Fund is also involved and is raising awareness among locals through a series of community outreach programs. Through their efforts, it is hoped that the persecution of this national treasure will be reduced and that the areas surrounding their natural habitat will be protected.

No one knows for sure what the future holds for the Madagascar fish eagle. It would be a crime of humanity against nature if this species is allowed to go extinct. We can only hope that the efforts underway are sufficient to save these treasures of the Madagascar forest.

Fun Facts

  • Up to 35% of the breeding Madagascar fish eagle population exhibits the cooperative breeding strategy known as polyandry.
  • Most fish-eagle species have white tails or some other area of white feathers.
  • The favorite fish of the Madagascar fish eagle is tilapia.
  • Something as seemingly harmless as converting wetland areas to rice paddies can have a negative impact on this eagle, as it reduces the supply of fish available.
  • While most fish eagles rely to a large extent on a fish diet, they are, for the most part, generalist eaters and will eat whatever they can catch. The Madagascar fish eagle is one of the few exceptions to this as they rarely eat anything other than fish.
  • The Madagascar fish eagle has a very pleasant, melodious call that is similar to its African mainland relative, the African fish eagle.
  • At least 17 species endemic to Madagascar have become extinct over the last 1,000 years with human intervention and activity being the major contributing factor.
  • The Madagascar fish eagle is one of the five most threatened raptor species in the world

Other Articles About African Raptors

  • Birds of Prey: The Verreaux's Eagle
    The Verreaux's Eagle is one of Africa's largest and most impressive birds of prey. Found throughout the mountains of southern and eastern Africa, this beautiful eagle is also known as the Black Eagle.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 01, 2014:

Hi Kathryn. Thank you. This is yet another fascinating eagle that deserves to be protected. Let's hope that the people of Madagascar are doing the right thing to ensure this Eagles future.

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on September 30, 2014:

What a magnificent creature. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of this bird. I've never been to Madagascar, and likely will not, so I must get all my travel out through pages like yours. You did not disappoint.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 07, 2014:

Thanks Flourish, I'm overdue for another Birds of Prey Hub.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 07, 2014:

I'm back to pin this to my "Animals" board.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 19, 2014:

Thanks Don, I too love raptors. They are incredible creatures. Thanks for stopping by.

Don Colfax from Easton, Pennsylvania on March 18, 2014:

Thanks for the hub! What an awesome bird. I love raptors, they've always caught my fascination.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 04, 2013:

Hi Amanda. Thank you for commenting. You are so right, Madagascar is one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. I will visit the Durrell Wildlife site to check it out. I certainly hope to visit Madagascar someday and I want to see the Madagascar Fish Eagle soaring above the canopy. Have a great day.

Amanda Littlejohn on December 04, 2013:

Gorgeous post about a beautiful and fascinating bird. Madagascar is one of the most important and threatened ecosystems in the world and home to many endemic species.

I would encourage everyone to support the Durrell Wildlife Trust which does a lot of work in the conservation field in Madagascar.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful Hub. :)

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 02, 2013:

Hi Glimmer. There are so few of them left and they are only located in a small region of Madagascar. I hope they survive, it would be a shame if they go extinct.

Claudia Mitchell on October 25, 2013:

This is fascinating. I 'm surprised at what a small region they live in.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 09, 2013:

Hi Mary. It amazes me the size of these birds. I really hope enough is being done to protect them. These words were new to me also. You could probably have a little fun using them :)

As always thank you for the support, votes, pins, etc...

Mary Craig from New York on October 09, 2013:

It is hard to imagine a five pound bird with a six foot wingspan! Not only had I not heard of this eagle but I didn't know about "polyandry" or "Siblicide". I learn so much from you my friend! Now how can I work my two new words into a conversation ;)

Hopefully conservation will keep these beautiful raptors around!

Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, pinned and shared.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 04, 2013:

Hi Crystal. I thought so but just wanted to be to be sure :) Thanks so much. Have a great weekend.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on October 04, 2013:

I was really just kidding!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 04, 2013:

Thanks Crystal. I think the name comes from the fact that their prey is primarily fish, not that they resemble a fish. Thanks for stopping by and for the vote.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on October 03, 2013:

I had to click on this just to see what a fish eagle looks like! I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. No resemblance to a fish at all! But you did a very thorough job here. Voted up and interesting.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 02, 2013:

Hi Deb. I too hope that the species survives as I would love to see one in the wild. Hopefully someday. I fear that with only a few hundred left that it will be a tough road ahead. Thanks for stopping by.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on October 02, 2013:

I was not aware of this eagle, and I do hope that its population will increase. Hopefully, they will hold out log enough where I can actually see one or more in the wild.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 01, 2013:

Hi FA. I feel the same way and wish there was more we could do to help all of these species that are struggling to survive. It does seems that the Madagascar Fish Eagle has started to adapt to their very low numbers with the polyandry. let's hope that enough is being done to protect them. Thanks so much for the vote, share, etc...

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 01, 2013:

Hi Joelle. It really is sad what's happening to many beautiful species. I really hope that the Madagascar Fish Eagle makes it. Thanks so much for stopping by. Have a great week.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 30, 2013:

Hi Mel. They are related although they exist on different continents. The closest relative of the Madagascar Fish Eagle is the African Fish Eagle. They are an amazing species. Thanks for stopping by.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 30, 2013:

Hi Carol. So nice to see you here. Thanks for stopping by. Hope all is well with you.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 29, 2013:

This is a fascinating, detailed and well-written hub on a bird that is just struggling to survive. Makes me feel guilty about eating rice and tilapia but I'm not sure that would help them. I found it very interesting that they've adapted through polyandry. Voted up ++++, sharing.

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on September 29, 2013:

Beautiful birds, Bill! I never heard of them before! I hope that they will be able to have them reproduce enough so they will not be on the endangered list any more. It's so sad to see so many species disappear mainly because of us, human!

Voted up, awesome and interesting!

Have a great Sunday!

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on September 29, 2013:

Interesting treatment of this remarkable bird. Perhaps I missed it, but are these related to the bald eagle, which I think is also a fish eagle?

carol stanley from Arizona on September 29, 2013:

Though I write here very infrequently I do like to check on my favorite writers. I always enjoy learning about travel and other interesting things from you. Hope you are doing well.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 29, 2013:

Thanks Joe. Mother Nature sure does have some interesting species. This one is so rare and unique. Glad you enjoyed reading about this beautiful eagle and many thanks for the votes, shares, tweets, etc. Have a great Sunday.

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on September 28, 2013:

Hi, Bill!

You did it again, my friend! Another awesome avian article!

Siblicide, huh? Talk about the ultimate Big Brother! LOL! In the grand scheme of Mother Nature, it certainly is an effective way to keep the population at a reasonable size. Hopefully, there'll be as many firstborn females as there are males.

Thanks for contributing to our continuing education about our feathered friends, Bill. Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting, shared, and tweeted.

Hope you and yours have a wonderful Sunday!

Aloha!

~Joe

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 28, 2013:

Thanks Suzie. This eagle really is unique and quite fascinating. The more I research and read up on these amazing creature the more I want to write about them. Madagascar is an interesting place. My sister went a few years ago and I would love to visit someday.

Thanks so much for the share, vote , pin ,etc... Have a great weekend.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 28, 2013:

Thanks Mike. This is one amazing creature. I sure hope that they are doing enough to insure their long-term survival. Many thanks for the vote and share. Have a great weekend.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 28, 2013:

Hi Linda. My sister and her family went to Madagascar a few years ago and it was an amazing adventure. I would love to travel their myself someday to see the Madagascar Fish Eagle. I sure hope they are till around by time I get there. Have a great weekend.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on September 28, 2013:

Hi Bill,

What an interesting raptor this is! The fact females may have a few mates who may help with incubation is fascinating and very unusual. Sad to think this gorgeous bird could become extinct with so few currently estimated. It's funny, Madagascar is also one of the largest producers of ylang-ylang essential oil a glorious fragrant oil from the flowers of a tree there.

Thanks so much for another wonderful addition to your series, you have quite the gift for this series of raptors which makes such interesting reading. I would never have thought of myself as madly interested in them before but now I am fascinated thanks to you.

Gorgeous photos as always my friend, keep it going!!

Up++++ shared and pinned!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 28, 2013:

Thanks Bill. Hope your having a great weekend.

Mike Robbers from London on September 28, 2013:

Madagascar has many truly unique animals and the fish eagle is certainly one of them. Great, educative hub. Voted and shared!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 28, 2013:

Thank you for a very interesting and informative hub, Bill. I'm fascinated by the animals of Madagascar. The eagle that you've described is beautiful. I very much hope that it survives. I'll share this hub.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2013:

Never heard of it, but thanks to your detailed article I now have. What a majestic bird....truly amazing and inspiring. Well done, Bill, and thank you for the education.

blessings my friend; have a great weekend

bill