Kruger Park Birding | Raptor Guide
Birds of Prey

"Happily too, the Kruger Park, in preserving a sample of the old Africa with all its wildlife, has saved incidentally a full natural stock of the birds of prey; and visitors who are not too absorbed in the quest for lions to cast their eyes aloft now and then, have a chance of catching many glimpses of what is likely soon to be, if it is not already, the finest show of wild raptorial birds remaining in the modern world."

(Leonard Gill 1945).


Raptors are the lords of the skies and Kruger is their sanctuary. There are 83 species of raptor that regularly occur in southern Africa. Of these, some 58 species are commonly found in Kruger.

The Park’s largest resident raptor is the Lappet-faced Vulture, which weighs up to 7.9kg and has a 2.8-m wingspan. The smallest raptor in Kruger is probably the Pearl-spotted Owlet weighing in at about 65g, with a wingspan of around 35cm.

Raptors are dramatic hunters. Their name is derived from the Latin word raptare, which means to seize. Broadly classified under the family Falconidae, raptors hunt during the day, have powerful, hooked beaks, strong, curved talons and in the words of Leonard Gill, ‘imperious expressions’.

The group includes eagles, hawks, buzzards, harriers, kites, falcons, vultures and the Secretarybird. The Strigiformes – the night hunters, which include 12 species of owl – are also classified as raptors.

The Big Three eagles of Kruger are Verreauxs’ Eagle, the Martial Eagle and the African Crowned Eagle. There has been some debate as to whether aggressive birds such as shrikes and drongos that hunt live prey should also be classified as raptors, but as they lack the defining hooked beaks and talons of the Falconiformes, they have not been included.

In many instances, raptors find partners for life and exhibit elaborate aerial courtship displays. Often the female is larger than the male. Many of the bigger raptors practice ‘cainism’ (derived from the biblical story of Cain and Abel) in which the first-born chick kills its sibling to secure its own survival. The parents allow nature to take its grisly course.

Raptor Groups

This section on raptors has been structured according to the comprehensive Raptor Identification Guide for Southern Africa by Ulrich Oberpreiller and Burger Cillie.

They divide birds of prey into the following 11 broad groups, based on morphology rather than names:

Group
 
Characteristics
  Species associated with Kruger
Secretarybird
 
Large bird with long crest of feathers; usually seen walking in open veld – the only species in this group
 
Secretarybird
Fish-eating raptors
 
Large raptors associated with water; swoop down to catch fish just below water surface
 
African Fish-Eagle, Osprey
Vultures
 
Robustly built birds that are primarily scavengers
 
Lappet-faced Vulture, White-headed Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Cape Vulture, Hooded Vulture
Eagles and Hawk-Eagles
 
Large, powerful and aggressive hunters that have fully feathered legs and hunt medium-sized and small animals
 
Martial Eagle, Verreauxs' Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Booted Eagle, Ayres's Hawk-Eagle
Snake-Eagles
 
Medium to large raptors; predominantly snake-eaters that have unfeathered lower legs
 
Bateleur, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle
Buzzards
 
Mostly medium-sized raptors with unfeathered lower legs; usually hunt from perches
 
Steppe Buzzard, Jackal Buzzard
Goshawks and Sparrowhawks
 
Small to medium-sized raptors; usually found in denser woodland; shorter wings give greater manoeuvrability through tree canopy; often catch other birds in flight
 
African Harrier-Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Shikra*, African Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk, Black Sparrowhawk
Harriers
 
Medium-sized raptors; more slenderly built than hawks; usually associated with marshland and open grassland
 
African Marsh-Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier
Kites
 
Small to medium-sized raptors; diverse in shape and size but all have long wings and are good fliers
 
Yellow-billed Kite, Black Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, African Cuckoo Hawk, Bat Hawk
Falcons and Kestrels
 
Smallish raptors; fast fliers that swoop on prey; kestrels hover before swooping
 
Peregrine Falcon, Lanner Falcon, Eurasian Hobby, Red-footed Falcon, Amur Falcon, Rock Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Dickinson's Kestrel
Owls
 
Small to large raptors, generally nocturnal
 
Barn Owl, African Wood-Owl, Southern White-faced Scops-Owl, African Scops-Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, African Barred Owlet, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Pel's Fishing-Owl, Marsh Owl, African Grass-Owl