Birds of prey and scavengers are known for flesh-eating, usually going about the remains of decomposing carcasses for the latter. A vegetable-eating scavenger is something quite unusual. The palm-nut vulture, also known as the vulturine fish eagle (Gypohierax angolensis) is one of these exceptions.
The palm-nut vulture is taxonomically half-eagle and half-vulture, impling that it possesses characteristics of both birds of prey and scavengers, also the only member of its genus gypohierax. This Makes it one of the world’s rarest birds.
Blessed with long and broad wings which enable it fly to great heights, the adult palm-nut vulture is white with black wings having a tail band, while the coloration of the juvenile varies in different shades of brown. With its large aquiline bill, the bird is able to scoop palms from the bunch. It has scaled legs and just like an eagle, it has acute talons. In terms of size, the males are smaller than females.
Just like its name suggests, the palm-nut vulture savors the fleshy pulp of palm fruits, specifically the oil-palm and the raffia/raphia palm, together with other wild fruits. However their intake of fruits reduces with age, adults at 60% while juveniles are at about 90%. It feeds from the same palm-tree for as long as the fruit lasts.
Apart from fruits, the vulturine fish eagle, just like other vultures also feeds on animal matter like other birds, small mammals, fish, carrion (carcasses of animals killed by predators) and many others although this is quite secondary. For this reason, it passes for an omnivore.
The nature of its diet has driven it to dwell in places where its favorite meal-the palm can easily be found. In Uganda, the palm-nut vulture is found in areas like Kalangala majorly known for palm growing, birding sites like the Queen Elizabeth national park and Murchison falls national park among others. Elsewhere in Africa, the bird can be traced to countries like Gabon, Angola, South Africa, Ghana, and others where palm-oil is grown, including forested and wet savannah regions.
During the season of reproduction, a pair which has been associated to the same nest for around a year carries out a courtship flight during which copulation takes place. Thereafter the female lays one white egg adorned with chocolate-brown and lilac under markings. Incubation lasts 6 to 7 weeks and becomes fully fledged at about 90 days, which is quite a long time in comparison.
The good news about the palm-nut vulture is that unlike some birds which are at the risk of extinction, its population size is still large thus not one of those vulnerable species like the gray-crowned crested crane. This however does not imply that its population can’t drop. Even those classified as vulnerable once had very high population but due to destruction of their habitats and other dangerous human practices, their numbers greatly dropped. This therefore calls for the continuous conservation of the palm-nut vulture as part of the wildlife.
By Enid Nabumati