Cape Vulture-Mohammed Jinnah - small-min

Grab your camera and head to our pick of Wild parks to capture birds of prey that are impressive, deadly and even cute. By Arnold Ras

Southern Africa is home to more than 80 species of raptors. Think you have what it takes to photograph our choice of five captivating birds of prey? These birds impress with their powerful beak and claws, graceful flight and fierce attitude.

So why not set your sights a little higher this winter and see how many you can spot? With helpful identification tips and the Wild Card destinations where these birds are sure to be seen, Wild has done all your #wildadventuregoals homework!

#1: Cape vulture

Cape Vulture Near-endemic to southern Africa, occurring in patches of Namibia, southern Zimbabwe, Lesotho and north-eastern and south-eastern South Africa, with a localized population in the Western Cape; it is a rare vagrant to Angola. It can occupy a variety of habitat types, although it especially favours subsistence farming communal grazing areas, where there is plenty of livestock to feed on. It eats carrion, searching aerially for a carcass to feed on; once on the scene it is dominant over almost all other vultures, except the larger Lappet-faced vulture.. #gidphotos #gidphotosafaris #menseselense #nature #natgeo #natgeowild #natgeoafrica #birdsofinstagram #birdphotography #birdsofsouthafrica #canonphotography #canon #vulture #capevulture #nearendemic #discoversouthafrica #africanwildlife #africanbirds #photosafari #itsinmynature #travelphotography #wildlifephotography

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Where to spot? Marakele National Park

At some 800 breeding pairs, this national park’s colony of endangered Cape vultures is not only one of the largest in the world, but also one of Marakele’s most popular visitor attractions. To watch the vultures glide and soar above the Waterberg, head up Lenong Drive to the Sentech Towers on top of the mountain. With a wingspan of almost 2,5 metres, these impressive raptors are big, bold and beautiful.

Top ID tip: When it comes to identifying Cape vultures, it’s helpful to know the difference between young and adult birds. Juvenile birds are medium brown with paler streaks below – note the red patches on their breasts and necks. The wing and body feathers of adult birds are a very pale brown, the flight feathers and the tail are black, the skin of their necks are a blue-grey colour. The eyes, which are dark in youngsters, turn honey-coloured with age.

Did you know? These carnivores prefer the softer meat parts of large mammals while bone fragments prove a valuable source of calcium for chicks.

#2: Bearded vulture

Where to spot? Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Golden Gate’s high mountains and open grasslands are home to hundreds of bird species and several birds of prey. But the bearded vulture may well be one of the most sought after and handsome ones. With its feathers the same warm and earthy colours as the Maluti Mountains, this vulture almost becomes one with its picturesque surrounds. For a chance of close sightings, head to the purpose-built hide overlooking the vulture restaurant.

Top ID tip: Bearded vultures sport a black mask and beard – quite noticeable on their white faces. Other than this striking feature, you can look for off-white feet, red and yellow eyes, a ginger-brown body, and dark brown wings and tail.

Did you know? Bearded vultures are also known as lammergeiers, in reference to the false belief that they catch lambs. In South Africa, they are confined to the Drakensberg massif and foothills above 1,800m.

#3: Verreaux’s eagle

#verreauxseagle beauty in nature

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Where to spot? Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve

One of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s reserves, this protected area spoils visitors with a vulture hide that is open all year round. Situated high up on the slope, the hide offers gorgeous views of the Drakensberg and a sense of total seclusion. Regular visitors to the hide include Cape and bearded vultures, but the Verreaux’s eagle dazzles with its broad wings and gliding flight. Remember to book your time in the hide in advance: call +27 (0)36 353 3718.

Top ID tip: V is indeed for Verreaux’s eagle: look for the unmissable V-mark on its back. When in flight, mature birds are entirely black from below with white parts at the base of the primaries.

Did you know? Verreaux’s eagle used to be known as the black eagle. While juveniles have mottled dark brown plumage, adults appear jet black.

#4: Pearl-spotted owlet

Where to spot? Mata Mata Rest Camp, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Many visitors to the Kgalagadi’s Mata Mata Rest Camp come back with tales and pictures of pearl-spotted owlets, which are regularly seen in the area. Unlike most owls, it is partly diurnal and is often sighted during daylight hours. Keep your eyes peeled and look up into trees where you may see them enjoying the day from among the shady leaves. Little ones will adore making their first acquaintance with what is surely one of the cutest owl species. Just look at those mesmerising eyes!

Top ID tip: Take your cue from its name and be on the lookout for large white pearl-like spots across the body. At only 15-18cm, the pearl-spotted owlet’s size is a dead giveaway. Elsewhere it may be confused with the African barred owlet, which is almost the same size, but their ranges do not overlap in the Kgalagadi.

Did you know? Because these owlets rarely conceal themselves, they are easy to spot. When an intruder is near, the owlet will stare at the enemy with its bright yellow eyes wide open.

#5: African fish eagle

African Fish eagle#krugernationalpark #sunsetdam #birdphotography #birds #birdsart #ecotourism

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Where to spot? Sunset Dam, Kruger National Park

Ever heard of a paradise where wildlife sightings will rarely disappoint? The Kruger’s Sunset Dam is just such a utopia. And what better bird of prey to capture the attention of beginner birders than the majestic African fish eagle. When it skims over the water and lifts a fish clean out, you’ll feel like you’re witnessing poetry in motion. Don’t think you have to wait for late afternoon to park off at Sunset Dam; you’ll find plenty of action from sunrise and right through the day.

Top ID tip: Probably the easiest eagle to pinpoint thanks to its white head and breast, chestnut-coloured belly and dark brown wings, though mottled juveniles may be confused with the palm-nut vulture or osprey. To minimise confusion, focus on the body and head shape, or listen for the telltale call.

Did you know? The fish eagle can easily lift prey of up to 2kg out of the water. Despite being an accomplished hunter, this raptor is not above stealing the hard won meals of other birds.

Sources: The Raptor Guide of Southern Africa. Ulrich Oberprieler. Burger Cillié. Game Parks Publishing. 2009; Newman’s Birds by Colour. 3rd Edition. Kenneth Newman, Irene Bredenkamp, Phoebus Perdikis, Vanessa Newman. Struik Nature. 2011.
* Featured picture by Mohammed Jinnah