The 6th of September was a stunning spring morning on Gondwana Game Reserve. During the morning game drive I decided to head down to the beautiful Nauga Valley. Just before descending down into the valley, I drove past a couple of dead trees and I noticed a large bird of prey sitting in one of the trees. The eagle had obviously been roosting there for the night for it was only 07:22 in the morning and still too cold to ride the thermals to look for prey. I stopped to have a look and was very surprised to find that it was a Brown Snake-eagle, Circaetus cinereus. I slowly drove closer so that the guests could have a closer look at the bird, but it flew off into a nearby wattle tree. I decided not to disturb it any further and continued down to the valley. Later in the day, on our way back to the lodge, we saw the Snake-eagle again as it took off towards the west, riding effortlessly on the thermals; as by that time it had become quite warm. This was the first ever recorded sighting of a Brown Snake-eagle at Gondwana Game Reserve.
The Brown Snake-eagle belongs to a family of eagles that, as it’s name suggests, specialise in capturing snakes. To accomplish this, these birds have several special adaptations. The Brown Snake-eagle has noticeably bright yellow eyes. This is an indication of their brilliant eyesight for spotting snakes and other small reptiles on the ground. Unlike most other eagles, snake-eagles do not have feathers on their legs. Instead, their legs are covered in layers of very strong scales, which are impossible for snakes to bite through. Even their toes are covered in these scales so that their feet are almost impenetrable to a snakes fangs. It would appear that snake-eagles are not harmed by snake venom that would usually be fatal for most other animals. Snake-eagles also have short stubby toes that’s makes it easier for them to hold on to snakes with slender bodies. Snake Eagles also capture a wide variety of small vertebrates and invertebrates. The eagle’s bill has a sharply pointed tip which enables it to rip through the tough scales of their prey. All of these adaptations make make the Snake eagle any reptiles worst nightmare.
By Field Guide, Christiaan Viljoen