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Second Wahlberg’s Eagle for the Western Palearctic

Wahlberg’s Eagle (Hieraaetus wahlbergi) is an African raptor distributed south of the Sahara. It’s known as an intra-African migrant, but movements north of the range are very rare. Indeed, the first Western Palearctic record was obtained only on 3 May 2013: a bird photographed by Ahmed Waheed on the west coast of Gulf of Suez, Red Sea, Egypt.

I recently wrote a blog-post about the status of Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) in Morocco and included a paragraph about the likelihood of vagrancy from sub-Saharan Africa. To show this possibility, I cited a few available observations from northern Mauritania (inside the Western Palearctic) including a photographed bird I used to illustrate the blog.


When I shared the blog-post on the Moroccan Birds facebook page, Tom Conzemius commented that “…the small beak and tail are perfect for Wahlberg’s Eagle”.

Because this is potentially the second Western Palaearctic record, I wanted some ID confirmation and this came from two raptor specialists: Dick Forsman (his raptor identification guides are well known) and Dr. Ralph Buij (based at Wageningen University  & Research and with extensive work on raptors of West Africa). Here are their responses:

Dick Forsman:

I definitely do agree that the bird is a Wahlberg’s Eagle. The proportions are not right for Tawny, which is a heavier bird. The slim build, longish tail, fine bill and the small crest on the head all indicate Wahlberg’s rather than Tawny. The uniformly worn plumage suggests that this is a young bird in its first year.

Ralph Buij:

I agree with Tom, definitely a Wahlberg’s Eagle. Tawny has a much heavier bill and is a bigger bird with smaller head compared to body, small crest also indicates Wahlberg’s.

Many thanks to Tom Conzemius without his comment this bird would have gone unnoticed. And thanks to Dick and Ralph for their comments. Of course, thanks to the photographer Hans Verdaat for this nice observation.

We were discussing the likelihood of vagrancy of Tawny Eagle, now we have another potential vagrant as well.

Wahlberg's Eagle (Hieraaetus wahlbergi), Cap Blanc peninsula, Mauritania, 23 Sep. 2014 (Hans Verdaat).
Wahlberg’s Eagle (Hieraaetus wahlbergi), Cap Blanc peninsula, Mauritania, 23 Sep. 2014 (Hans Verdaat).
Wahlberg’s Eagle (Hieraaetus wahlbergi), Cap Blanc peninsula, Mauritania, 23 Sep. 2014 (Hans Verdaat).
Wahlberg’s Eagle (Hieraaetus wahlbergi), Cap Blanc peninsula, Mauritania, 23 Sep. 2014 (Hans Verdaat).

4 thoughts on “Second Wahlberg’s Eagle for the Western Palearctic”

  1. Comme quoi il ne faut jamais être pressé: j’avais un peu tiqué en voyant la photo (la houppette… Le vent du désert, ai-je vite pensé…) et m’étais plongé de suite dans ton texte sur aquila rapax au Maroc. Je dois dire que je ne suis pas un familier du Wahlberg: vu avec certitude une fois dans le Rift éthiopien, et, peut-être, rien n’est moins certain une autre fois dans le bas-delta au seuil de la saison humide, haut [obs. non reprise par Ornithondar]. Ci-après ce qu’en dit Isenmann (in Oiseaux de Mauritanie, 2010): “nicheur sédentaire dans les boisements du sud de la Mauritanie sahélienne (delta et vallée du Sénégal, Karakoro) (Lamarche 1988) mais statut actuel peu clair (au Sénégal du Nord incluant le PNO du Djoudj, seulement 7 observations, Schifter 1986, Morel & Morel 1990, Rodwell et al. 1996.) Les observations enregistrées en 1980 et 1981 (Browne 1981) et après examen ultérieur, sont considérées maintenant comme totalement erronées (P. Browne)”. Amitiés sudistes. Frédéric pour Ornithondar.

    1. You are welcome Hans! Firstly, thanks to you who took the photograph, and also to all those who re-identified the bird. Indeed, I linked to the Observation record from the original blog-post about the “Status of Tawny Eagle in Morocco”.


  2. Interesting comments. I was fortunate to see several Wahlberg’s in Kenya 40 years ago and, on perching birds, the small but subtle crest was an indicative feature as was the smaller powerful build compared to the more numerous Tawnies i saw.

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