lesser spotted eagles taking carrion
Text and photos by: David Allen

On Christmas Day 2004, I visited the pig farm just north of Pietermaritzburg to check out the raptors present. In addition to hundreds of Yellow-billed Kites and White Storks, four immature Lesser Spotted Eagles were present. Unlike on previous visits to this site, I found these eagles perched for much of the time in low Acacia trees fringing the main 'pig pen'. The eagles were watched over several hours and all the features of immature Lesser Spotted Eagle were noted, i.e. rufous nape patches, streaked breasts, narrow leg feathering and, of course, spotted upper wing coverts. In flight the upperparts pattern was highly distinctive, i.e. white rump, pale Aquila base-of-primaries patch, pale inner primaries and the line of spots along the upper wing coverts. The underwing pattern was fairly uniform, without the broad pale underwing line found in Steppe Eagles.

The Lesser Spotted Eagles in flight at the pig farm.

It's unusual to find these eagles at such a site as they are not known as great scavengers of carrion. In India, however, they apparently frequently rob Black Kites of food. Perhaps it's the large number of kites that attracts them to the pig farm and they kleptoparasitize these rather than taking the carrion (put out for the pigs) directly. One cracking adult Black Kite (pale eye, black bill, very white head and less deeply forked tail - with the first feature being diagnostic amongst the many juv Yellow-billeds with their almost-as-white heads, black bills and shallower tail forks) was also seen on the ground.

This site is easily accessible. Travel 14 km north of Pietermaritzburg on the Greytown road to the Wartburg turnoff to the right. A 100-or-so metres further on the pig farm lies adjacent to the road on the left. Drive in another 100-or-so metres and the main pig pen is on the right. The staff are quite used to visiting birders and are very friendly. Should'nt take longer than a few minutes for the eagles to reveal themselves amongst the hordes of kites, ravens and storks.

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