Sometimes referred to as the "Flagship Species" when it comes to conserving the coastal forest ecosystem, the Southern Banded Snake Eagle is a raptor that lives in the canopies of indigenous forests eating snakes and other reptiles, amphibians and sometimes small mammals or birds. With estimated adult numbers of less than 100 in South Africa, they are highly sought after by Birders.
Southern Banded Snake Eagles can only be found on the East coast of Africa, all the way down to South Africa. In South Africa, they live in coastal forests from Mtunzini up to the border with Mozambique - their range limited to this small corner of the country.
Where To Find
Southern Banded snake eagles are specialists in the forest environment and can be found in the small patches of indigenous forests that remain on the east coast. They typically perch within the forest canopy, but have taken to perching on other man-made structures like electrical, telephone and railway pylons, so your best chance is to check any high pinnacles in areas adjacent to coastal forest. As is typical with snake eagles, they hunt later than most raptors as their diet consists mainly of snakes and other reptiles that will bask in the sun after it has already had some time to heat the world up.
How To Id
The stripy body and brown head of the Southern Banded Snake Eagle make it pretty unmistakable if you are one of those who are fortunate enough to catch it perching. The legs are featherless and scaly as with other snake eagles and its very specific environment make it difficult to confuse with much other than the much smaller African Cuckoo-hawk. If seen in flight, it can be identified by white plumage with brown stripes and head, with two white stripes on the tail.
The Southern Banded Snake Eagle is regarded as Critically Endangered in South Africa . They are vulnerable to the destruction of their indigenous coastal forest habitat which is being replaced with agriculture and alien tree plantations, as well as electrocution with exposed power pylons. They are being closely monitored by Birdlife to understand their habits and how best to conserve them but estimates of mature individuals are as low as 50 in South Africa, making this raptor one that needs utmost care and protection.
The Southern-Banded Snake Eagle is one of the rarest sightings in the country. It is also one of our specialties at Zululand Birding with Junior Gabela. Junior worked with BirdLife South Africa on research to help understand the behaviours and habits of this bird, so he knows exactly the places they nest, perch and hang around. For your best chance to see this bird make a special booking to see this bird or add it to your wishlist when booking a trip.