NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK

The majestic fish eagle

Bird had a near-death experience but lived to see another day

In Summary

• Swooping to catch a big fish, the eagle was surprised to find it was in fact a crocodile

Fish eagle vs crocodile
Fish eagle vs crocodile
Image: GARETH JONES

About two years ago, we witnessed an incredible event at the Hyena dam in the Nairobi National Park.

A fish eagle landed on the bank of the dam and stood for a while. Suddenly, it took off and flew rapidly up, then swooped down with its talons outstretched as if to try and catch a nice big fish.

However, this “big fish” turned out to be a crocodile. The crocodile responded in a flash and nearly succeeded in pulling the fish eagle under the water. After a brief struggle, amazingly, the fish eagle had enough strength to break free… and live another day!

I wonder if the fish eagle saw movement near the water surface and mistakenly tried to catch a “big fish“ crocodile? It’s difficult to try and understand why.

One probability is that the angle of the sun on the water might have had a blinding refection that only allowed the fish eagle partial sight, as it saw a flash of movement on the top of the water.

That flash of movement was most likely the snout of a crocodile that I estimate was over 2m in length. The fish eagle actually flew directly onto the head of the crocodile with its talons trying to grab this “big fish”.

We truly did witness a rare occurrence. This fish eagle was blessed to live another day and will hopefully catch some real fish in future.

There is something regal about eagles, and fish eagles are among my favourite raptors. To have eagles living so close to a major city is unique. Another unique and somewhat iconic note regarding fish eagles is their call.

If you have ever had the privilege of watching them call, it is indeed quite something to watch as they throw their head back and rapidly forward, giving out a wonderful call that to me represents the cry of freedom in Africa.