Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)

Cover image: Verreaux’s Eagle by Maans Booysen – Prieska district, Northern Cape – BirdPix No. 197991


The Verreaux’s Eagle is one of the worlds most distinctive raptor species. It is a very large and powerfully built black and white eagle. Females can attain 5.8kg and a wingspan up to 2.5m. Males are smaller, weighing up to 3.7kg.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo
Photo by Neels Putter

In adults, the entire head, body and tail is black except for the lower back and rump, which are white. There is also a narrow white ‘V’ extending from the upper back to the mantle. The legs are black and shaggy and are fully feathered to the feet.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Meyersdal Eco Estate, Gauteng
Photo by Kevin Lavery

The bill is dark, horn-grey. The cere, gape, lores and eye-ring are rich yellow and conspicuous, even from a distance. The feet are dull yellow, robust and powerfully built with long, sharp talons. The eyes are dark brown.

In flight the under wings of the Verreaux’s Eagle are mainly black with pale panels in the outer wing. The flight feathers are barred in whiteish-grey and black. The wings have a distinctive shape and are characteristically narrow at the base, with broad tips.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Near Alberton, Gauteng
Photo by Lance Robinson

The sexes are similar in plumage colouration, but females have a more extensive area of white on the back. Females are also noticeably larger and have broader wings.

Juvenile and immature birds are patchily mottled overall, in brown and black. The crown is rich rufous and the cheeks are black. The underparts are brown with a black chest. Full adult plumage is attained at 2 years of age.

An immature Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) showing the patchy black and brown plumage.
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

Adults are distinctive and are not easily mistaken for any other species. Juveniles may be confused with other large brown eagles such as the Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax). The large size, characteristic wing shape and habitat of the Verreaux’s Eagle help to identify it, as well as the juveniles patchy black and brown plumage.

Status and Distribution

The Verreaux’s Eagle is a locally common resident. Its distribution closely follows that of Hyraxes/Dassies (Procavia and Heterohyrax spp). It is patchily distributed from Israel and Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula, the southern Arabian Peninsula, eastern Chad and western Sudan. The Verreaux’s Eagle is more continuously distributed from Eritrea and Ethiopia to eastern and southern Africa.

SABAP2 distribution map for Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila verreauxii – April 2024. Details for map interpretation can be found here.

It occurs throughout most of southern Africa, mainly where annual rainfall is below 750 mm. The Verreaux’s Eagle is absent from the Kalahari sands of north-eastern Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Cape, and from the plains of southern Mozambique and north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal. Also largely absent from mountainous areas of Lesotho and the eastern part of the Eastern Cape.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Dasklip Pass, Western Cape
Photo by Cornelia Rautenbach

The mountains and hills inhabited by the Verreaux’s Eagle are possibly the least altered habitat in southern Africa. It is still persecuted in some regions, especially in small-stock farming areas. However, most farmers now realise the beneficial role of the Verreaux’s Eagle in controlling hyrax populations. The Verreaux’s Eagle is rarely attracted to carcasses baited with poison, and consequently it is still common and widespread. Unlike many other large raptors its distribution has probably not changed much, and its conservation status appears to be healthy.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett


The Verreauxs’ Eagle inhabits mountains, rocky hills and gorges, usually with cliffs and populations of hyraxes, its main prey. It is largely absent from flat and non-rocky areas.

High mountainous habitat
Sani Pass, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett

It is most numerous in relatively arid regions such as the Karoo and the Namibian escarpment. The species is least numerous in wetter woodland and grassland vegetation types. The Motobo Hills in Zimbabwe are a marked exception to this as the Verreaux’s Eagle reaches its highest population densities in this area.

In the Karoo, where Hyraxes are abundant, they sometimes hunt away from larger mountains and hills in flatter areas around koppies and rock outcrops .

Typical habitat
Gifberg, Western Cape
Photo by Les Underhill


Verreauxs’ Eagle is invariably encountered in pairs or as a pair with a juvenile. Pairs remain close together for most of the day. Adults are resident and territorial year-round, but immatures are known to wander widely.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Near Komaggas, Northern Cape
Photo by Kevin Murray

They are usually seen soaring, sometimes to great heights or gliding swiftly along rock faces. The Verreaux’s Eagle is most active in the morning and late afternoon. They often spend many hours perched on a shady ledge during the midday heat. Roosts on cliffs or ledges and only sometimes in trees, often close to the nest site.

An immature Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii).
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

Hunts aerially, or from a perch. Most hunting is done by surprise, attacking prey as it swoops around a corner, and less often from a stoop dive. The Verreaux’s Eagle often hunts co-operatively in pairs, with the lead bird in plain view, drawing the attention of the prey or flushing it for the second bird following close behind. They are also known to knock prey over cliff ledges before retrieving it below. Pairs frequently share their prey.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Middelburg, Eastern Cape
Photo by Tino Herselman

The Verreaux’s Eagle feeds almost exclusively on mammals. Hyraxes form the vast majority of the diet with some variation from region to region. In more arid places such as the Karoo, Hyraxes form at least 90% of the diet but become less important in moister habitats like grassland, savanna and fynbos, making up around 50 to 60% of the diet.

Other recorded mammalian prey includes Monkeys, Baboons, Canerats, Bushbabies, Squirrels, Hares and small antelope like Duikers, Klipspringer and Springbok. The calves of larger antelope like Kudu are sometimes also taken. Birds are hunted on occasion too, mostly guineafowl, francolins, Korhaans, doves etc. Occasionally captures reptiles like snakes, monitor lizards and tortoises, which are broken open by dropping them in flight onto rocks.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Gauteng
Photo by Lia Steen

The Verreaux’s Eagle rarely kills domestic stock like lambs, goats and chickens. This usually only happens when Hyraxes are scarce and in short supply.

Before breeding begins pairs perform spectacular courtship display flights where they rise high into the air followed by a long, steep dive, falling hundreds of meters before repeating the process multiple times. Males frequently drop a stick at the top of the flight before stoop-diving after it and turning upside town to catch it with his feet.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Near Tarkastad, Eastern Cape
Photo by Zenobia van Dyk

Breeding takes place from April to June or even August. The Verreaux’s Eagle is monogamous and pair bonds can last for many years. Most territories contain up to 5 alternative nest sites, although 1 is usually favoured over the rest. The nest is a large platform of sticks, usually around 1.5 to 2m across, and lined with green leaves. Nests are frequently reused over decades and may become huge and tower-like, reaching up to 4m high! The nest is usually situated on a cliff ledge and very rarely in a tree or electricity pylon, and even more rarely on the ground. In arid areas they sometimes nest on top of Sociable Weaver nests.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Piketberg, Western Cape
Photo by John Fincham

1 or two eggs are usually laid per clutch. The incubation period lasts from 43 to 48 days and most of the incubation is done by the female. The eggs are laid 3 to 4 days apart and incubation begins once the first egg has been laid. This results in them hatching at different times (asynchronous hatching). Only 1 chick survives, the younger chick is killed by the older sibling within the first 3 days. This is called Cainism and is common among larger birds of prey.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Graaff-Reinet district, Eastern Cape
Photo by Alan Collett

The chick is fed mostly by the female on food brought to her by the male. Chicks become fully fledged and able to fly after 90 to 98 days. Fledglings are dependant on their parents for a further 120 days or so after which they are chased away from the parents territory.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Graaff- Reinet district, Eastern Cape
Photo by Alan Collett

Further Resources

This species text is adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Alan Collett, Cobus Elstadt, Cornelia Rautenbach, John Fincham, Kevin Lavery, Kevin Murray, Lance Robinson, Lia Steen, Les Underhill, Maans Booysen, Neels Putter, Tino Herselman and Zenobia van Dyk is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Black Eagle (Alt. English); Witkruisarend (Afrikaans); uKhozi (Zulu); Ukhozi ,Untsho(Xhosa); Zwarte Arend (Dutch); Aigle de Verreaux (French); Felsenadler, Kaffernadler (German); Águia-preta (Portuguese).

List of species available in this format.

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2024. Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila verreauxii. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at

Bird identificationbirding

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Near Copperton, Northern Cape
Photo by Cobus Elstadt
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!